Despite decades of research, teacher professional development is not adequately helping teachers to develop their students’ critical thinking skills and subject matter knowledge so that they can be ready for college and the workplace, a new report by the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) Center for Public Education (CPE) finds.
“Teaching the Teachers: Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability,” reports that ongoing, dedicated time for collaboration and coaching is the most effective way to help teachers develop needed classroom skills, but most professional development exercises are one-time workshops that research shows have no lasting effect. An estimated 90 percent of teachers participate in some form of professional development each year, but the vast majority receive it in workshops.
“Effective professional development is a key factor in improving student achievement and better preparing our students for the challenges of the 21st century economy,” said NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel. “We already see that public schools are facing greater accountability for their students’ learning, and now teachers in the states that implement the Common Core State Standards will be under intense pressure to teach their students critical thinking and problem-solving skills.”
The report notes that professional development that is ongoing, collaborative and connected to the teacher’s subject area produces the largest student gains. The biggest challenge for teachers, research shows, is implementing the skills they have learned in their classrooms.
The report also looked at effective practices and found that:
• Professional development is best delivered in the context of the teacher’s subject area;
• Working with a coach or mentor is shown to be highly effective;
• Although research on effective critical thinking strategies is lacking, teachers in some areas have established professional learning communities to create best practices and coach each other;
• Case studies show that some school districts may be able to reallocate spending to provide better professional development opportunities without spending significantly more.
Teachers’ time is the most significant cost consideration for effective professional development. Further, professional development is often one of the first areas cut in tight budget times.
“Teachers need embedded time for collaboration and support while they attempt to change their practices,” said CPE Director Patte Barth. “But time is money. When budgets are pinched, districts may be tempted to go with one-time workshops which cost fewer dollars. But a low price is still too high if there is no impact on student learning.”
“Teaching the Teachers: Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability,” was written by Allison Gulamhussein, a doctoral student at George Washington University and a former high school English teacher, who was a policy intern for the Center for Public Education. View Gulamhussein’s analysis of this report in American School Board Journal.