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Education Statistics Quarterly
Vol 1, Issue 1, Topic: Elementary/Secondary Education
Toward Better Teaching: Professional Development in 1993-94
By: Susan P. Choy and Xianglei Chen
 
This article was originally published as the Executive Summary of the Statistical Analysis Report of the same name. The sample survey data are from the 1993-94 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS).
 
 

Teachers' professional development has become a major focus of school reform initiatives as many policymakers, researchers, and other members of the education community have come to believe that further gains in teacher effectiveness and student achievement require significant changes in teachers' knowledge and teaching practices. Teachers' professional development traditionally has been viewed as a local responsibility, but in recent years, the federal government and many state governments have assumed a more active role than in the past. At the federal level, a National Goal has been added, a set of principles for effective professional development has been articulated by the U.S. Department of Education, and funding for professional development activities has been provided through a variety of mechanisms. States' involvement with professional development has traditionally focused on funding, mandating the amount of inservice time, and regulating recertification. Now, many states are taking a more active role in influencing the focus, scope, and quality of professional development as well.

In the context of these changes, this report uses the 1993-94 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) to examine who determines the content of professional development programs, the formats in which professional development activities are provided, the rate of participation and amount of time teachers are engaged in activities on certain topics, the ways in which schools or districts support teachers' participation in professional development activities, and teachers' perceptions of the impact of the activities.


Responsibility for determining the content of inservice professional development was shared in 1993-94. When asked how much influence they thought various groups had in determining the content of inservice programs in their schools, 72 percent of public school principals thought that they had a great deal of influence, 71 percent thought that teachers had a great deal of influence, and 66 percent thought that school district staff had a great deal of influence. Smaller percentages thought that state departments of education and school boards had a great deal of influence (21 percent in each case). Principals in states that mandated specific amounts of time for professional development and required districts to have professional development plans were among those most likely to ascribe a great deal of influence to the state department of education. Teachers were less likely than principals to think that teachers had a great deal of influence: about three-quarters of all teachers thought that they had at least some influence over the content of inservice professional development programs, with 31 percent thinking they had a great deal of influence.

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Participation in formal teacher induction programs is increasing in the public sector: 56 percent of public school teachers in their first 3 years of teaching reported having participated in such a program, compared with 44 percent of those with 4 to 9 years of experience and 17 percent of those with 10 to 19 years of experience. Private school teachers in their first 3 years of teaching were less likely to have participated in a formal teacher induction program (28 percent), but assistance to new teachers in private schools, which tend to be smaller than public schools, may be more informal.

In 1993-94, almost all teachers (96 percent of public school teachers and 91 percent of private school teachers) reported having participated in some professional development activity since the end of the last school year. Participation in district- and school-sponsored workshops and other inservice programs was particularly high, reflecting the mandatory nature of much of this type of professional development (table A).

Table A.-percentage of teachers who had participated in various types of professional development activities since the end of the last school year, by sector: 1993-94

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Schools and Staffing Survey: 1993-94 (Teacher Questionnaire).


Participation rates varied somewhat with teacher characteristics, but the differences were relatively small. In the public sector, full-time teachers appear to rely more on their schools and part-time teachers more on professional associations for professional development, a pattern that may reflect the opportunities available to them. In both the public and private sectors, teachers with 10 or more years of experience were more likely than new teachers to participate in school- or district- (or affiliation-) sponsored programs and in professional growth activities sponsored by professional associations. New teachers, on the other hand, were more likely than experienced teachers to enroll in college courses in their subject fields, suggesting that they are focusing their professional development time on earning advanced degrees or credentials or, if they are not fully certified, taking courses they need for certification.

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Since the end of the last school year, approximately one-half of all teachers had participated in professional development programs on at least one of three topics associated with recent school reform efforts: uses of educational technology for instruction, student assessment, and cooperative learning in the classroom. In addition, almost two-thirds had participated in professional development programs on methods of teaching in their fields, and 29 percent had undertaken in-depth study in their subjects (table B). Most of these programs lasted one day or less.

Table B. -Percentage of teachers who had participated in an inservice or professional development program that focused on various topics since the end of the last school year, by sector: 1993-94

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Schools and Staffing Survey: 1993-94 (Teacher Questionnaire).


Rates of participation in professional development programs reflect a variety of factors, including teachers' need for help, availability of resources, the priority that schools and districts give to professional development, the extent to which training is voluntary or mandatory, and teachers' motivation to participate voluntarily. SASS data show some variation by school and teacher characteristics. For example, in both public and private schools, teachers with at least 10 years of experience, who are less likely to have learned computer skills while in college, were more likely than teachers in their first 3 years of teaching to have participated in professional development on the uses of educational technology for instruction. In the public sector, state variation was evident as well, with some of this variation appearing to be related to specific initiatives that some states have implemented. For example, rates of participation by public school teachers in professional development programs on student assessment were particularly high in a few of the states that were developing or implementing new student assessment initiatives.

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Effective professional development is dependent to a large extent upon institutional and financial support of teachers' professional development and a school culture that nurtures teacher learning. SASS asked teachers whether they had received various types of support for professional development activities in their main assignment fields. The most common types of support were release time from teaching (received by 47 percent of all teachers) and time for professional development built into their schedules (received by 40 percent). In addition, since the end of the previous school year, 24 percent of all teachers had been reimbursed for travel expenses, 24 percent had their tuition and fees paid, and 31 percent had received professional growth credits for professional development activities related to their main assignment fields. However, 23 percent of all teachers had received none of these types of support. The percentages of teachers receiving various types of support varied by sector and by school and district characteristics. In the public sector, the percentages also varied by state, reflecting varying state involvement in professional development.

Recently developed principles for effective professional development emphasize the importance of a collaborative environment where teachers and administrators develop common goals, share ideas, and work together to achieve their goals. Eleven percent of all teachers strongly agreed that their principal talked with them frequently about instructional practices, 37 percent strongly agreed that there was a great deal of cooperative effort among staff members, and 39 percent strongly agreed that they made a conscious effort to coordinate their courses with other teachers.

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Despite the widespread criticism of the current state of professional development by researchers and policymakers, teachers held generally positive views about the impact of professional development on their teaching practices. Eighty-five percent of teachers who participated in any professional development programs on the use of technology, teaching methods in their fields, student assessment, or cooperative learning, or who undertook in-depth study in their subject fields, reported that those programs provided them with new information. Sixty-two percent reported that the programs caused them to seek further information or training, 65 percent reported that they caused them to change their teaching practices, and 42 percent reported that they caused them to change their views on teaching. Ten percent thought that the programs had wasted their time. The greater the intensity of the participation, the more likely teachers were to think that their professional development experiences had an impact. There was also an association between participation in the various types of professional development and the use of certain instructional practices generally linked to contemporary teaching practices or new pedagogical approaches that are thought to be especially effective.

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The 1993-94 data provide important information on professional development as practiced during the mid-1990s. Although the conception and practice of professional development is changing as school reform strategies have increasingly focused on improving professional development, it will take some time for the impact of the policies and programs currently being developed to be evident at the school level. During the past few years, the federal government, state governments, and a wide range of professional associations and other organizations have initiated a host of serious efforts to improve teaching practices. The next administration of SASS, in 1999-2000, will provide an opportunity to determine the extent to which reforms now being planned and implemented have started to influence schools and teachers.

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Data sources: The following components of the 1993-94 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS): Principal Questionnaire, Teacher Questionnaire, School Questionnaire, and Teacher Demand and Shortage Questionnaire. (Available on CD-ROM, NCES 98-312.)

For technical information, see the complete report:
Choy, S.P., and Chen, X. (1998). Toward Better Teaching: Professional Development in 1993-94 (NCES 98-230).

For a detailed description of the 1993-94 SASS sample design, see
Abramson, R., Cole, C., Fondelier, S., Jackson, B., Parmer, R., and Kaufman, S. (1996). 1993-94 Schools and Staffing Survey: Sample Design and Estimation (NCES 96-089).

Author affiliations:S.P. Choy and X. Chen are affiliated with MPR Associates, Inc.

For questions about content, contact Michael Ross (Michael.Ross@ed.gov).

To obtain the complete report (NCES 98-230), call the toll-free ED Pubs number (877-433-7827), visit the NCES Web Site (http://nces.ed.gov), or contact GPO (202-512-1800).


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