School & District Management

Teaching the Teachers: Reviewing Professional Development Research

By Debra Viadero — June 16, 2009 1 min read

It’s probably a safe bet to say that every district in the nation has offered its teachers some form of professional development at one time or another. Yet there is little research to show whether such programs work or what might make them successful.

In an effort to provide some answers on that score for its members, the Council of Chief State School Officers recently conducted its own review of the research on professional development programs in science and mathematics. Borrowing a method used by researchers at the American Institutes of Research, CCSSO researchers reviewed 400-plus reports on the topic, eventually settling on 16 studies that had been shown, though fairly rigorous scientific methods, to yield positive results.

So what did the successful programs have in common? For one, they tended to focus on specific subject-matter content, as well as on how to teach it. They included multiple activities to reinforce teachers’ learning long after the professional development sessions ended, such as employing mentors and coaches. And 14 of the programs continued for six months or more.

Rolf K. Blank, who led the project, said a second aim of the review was to see if this type of metaanalysis could yield useful information for policymakers and practitioners. You can judge for yourself. The Washington-based group has posted the study on its Web site.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.