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How to Improve Professional Development for Teachers

How to Improve Professional Development for Teachers

Patrick R. Riccards |

“We must do more with the talent we have,” said NSDC Executive Director Stephanie Hirsh. “Nothing is more important than teacher quality,” EdSec Arne Duncan said. “We must close the yawning achieving gap in this country,” said Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond. With the statements of all three, we were off to the races on the issue of teacher quality and professional development this morning.

The setting was a briefing hosted by the National Staff Development Council, unveiling their most recent research (led by Darling-Hammond and her School Redesign Network) on the state of teacher development. The takeaway was simple. The current state of teacher professional development is severely lacking, particularly as federal and state requirements and expectations continue to grow. Earth-shattering, no. But the findings serve as a strong insight into what may be coming down the pike.

If anything, the past era in federal education policy has been one about research. The need for data. The definition of good data (and of bad). And the most stringent of means by which to go about collecting it. The new era seems to be one of successfully applying that research so it gets to the rank-and-file policymaker and practitioner. What do we do with data once we have it? How do we use it to effectively close the achievement gap? How do we use it to improve student and teacher performance? How do we use it to grow, to improve, and to generally do better?

Yes, the research data was mostly qualitative. Yes, we still have a lot of unanswered questions about the correlations between strong teacher PD and student achievement. But NSDC provided some interesting points to get this new discussion on teacher development started, and they were points heard by the EdSec, by CCSSO chief Gene Wilhoit, and by the many who are looking for details into how to train, retain, and support good teachers in every classroom.

The full report can be found at The highlights, at least according to me, include:

• “Drive-by” or “dump-and-run” professional development doesn’t cut it, at least not in this time of accountability. Meaningful PD must be ongoing, content-based, and embedded as part of the learning day.

• According to the data we do have, the right PD can improve student achievement.

• That said, we need to improve the linkages between teaching and student learning.

• We need experimental research into teacher professional development, particularly in subjects other than math and science.

• Our students are slipping in international measures, in part, because of our professional development opportunities. Our competitors — particularly those in Southeast Asia — are just investing more time, effort, money, and thought into high-quality PD that has a direct impact on student learning and performance. They are taking advantage of our water-treading for the past decade.

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• We need to increase both the quantity and the quality of PD offered to teachers, particularly those who are entering the profession.

• At the end of the day, improved professional development (particularly in-service) is key to achieving our educational goals.

Information is nice, using it effectively is even better. As CCSSO’s Wilhoit pointed out, the challenge we face is how do we move from good ideas to better practice? Particularly as it relates to state policy, how do we take these data points and build a better teacher development and support network, a network offering the ongoing PD, measuring its effectiveness, and ensuring that all teachers are getting the support and professional learning opportunities they need to do their jobs well?

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