Washington, D.C. — Professional development in education has gotten a bad reputation from both education policymakers and practitioners alike, largely due to its ineffective outcomes and disconnect from student achievement. Despite these shortcomings, a new report released today by the Center for American Progress finds that the time is ripe for policymakers and practitioners to develop professional learning for teachers that works, and identifies some examples to help guide them.
The report, “High-Quality Professional Development for Teachers,” addresses the prevailing disconnect between professional-learning systems for teachers and long-term, sustained improvement in student-learning outcomes, and maps out policies to enhance professional-development programs nationwide. Currently, the report finds that most teachers receive professional-development opportunities that are sporadic, short term, and divorced from teaching and student achievement.
In order to ensure that professional-development activities for teachers spur measurable and lasting improvements to both teaching practices and student achievement, the report recommends professional-learning opportunities meet a core set of standards that, among other things, provide teachers with continuous feedback and opportunities to collaborate and coach. Additionally, the report suggests replacing “drive-by” interventions—or single-event interventions—with sustained, regular activities designed to improve teacher instruction.
Another strategy to cultivate instructional improvement is to highlight the connection between teacher evaluations and professional learning. While teacher evaluations can provide important information critical to human-capital resource decisions—such as whether a district decides to promote or dismiss a teacher—teacher evaluations provide essential qualitative information that can help teachers improve their professional practice. As new teacher-evaluation systems are designed, implemented, and reviewed in the states, education policymakers and professionals would benefit from provisions that require teachers and evaluators meet to discuss evaluations and collectively personalize such feedback to foster continual improvement.
In addition to teacher evaluations, the development and adoption of the Common Core State Standards have the potential to be an equally powerful education reformer. Specifically, professional development for teachers must be treated as a valued component to the Common Core State Standards’ success. According to the report, “If the ultimate intention of the program is to raise the level of learning and achievement among students, then the interim goal must be to improve the quality of instruction,” which is achieved through sustained investments in professional development for teachers. Without adequate training and continued professional development and support, the teacher’s ability to improve classroom instruction and student achievement is significantly hindered, thus making the Common Core State Standards an obtuse policy initiative.
Among its recommendations, the report also suggests that reforms to teacher professional-development systems should:
- Establish a strong evaluation system that identifies strengths and weaknesses in teaching practices
- Encourage administrators in schools, districts, and state education agencies to take steps to become experts in changing standards, and make sure teachers are aware of these
- Support administrators in schools, districts, and state education agencies in the creation and collection of resources about new standards and assessments
- Adapt staffing, the organizations of the school day, and other basic structures of schools to support better teaching
While there are many challenges with formulating and implementing high-quality professional-development opportunities for teachers, the work of improving instruction to help students excel deserves attention now—the success of the nation’s classrooms is dependent on the quality of instruction our students receive.
To speak with an expert on this issue, contact Katie Peters at [email protected] or 202.741.6285.