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Toward Better Teaching: Professional Development in 1993-94 / Chapter 2

2. Determining the Content of Professional Development Programs

All of the sets of principles for effective professional development of practicing teachers mentioned in the Introduction call for greater teacher involvement in the planning of their professional development and advocate integrating professional development activities with broader school, district, and state goals for school improvement. This section begins with a brief description of how responsibility for determining the content of professional development programs is typically allocated. It then uses Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) data to describe principals' and teachers' perceptions regarding the amount of influence various groups had over the content of one type of professional development activity-in-service programs. These data provide an indication of how influence was distributed in 1993-94, at least from the principals' perspective, and also of the extent to which teachers thought that they had a voice in planning professional development activities in their schools.

Participants in the Process

Decisions about professional development programs are made within a complex framework of shared activity and responsibility. The federal government has developed a National Goal related to professional development and has provided funding for professional development through a host of programs. States have always had a major influence on the quantity of professional development by requiring it for recertification and by providing funding through a variety of mechanisms. Now they are becoming more involved in other ways as well. For example, a number of states have state-level plans for professional development, and most have some type of professional development requirements. These requirements, however, vary greatly, ranging from general mandates, such as "districts must do professional development," to specific prescriptions for or encouragement of particular amounts or types of professional development (CPRE 1997).

Districts frequently design and implement professional development programs directly and may have school improvement plans that schools use as frameworks for school-level plans. Schools may have site plans and, within schools, committees or departments may have responsibility for planning professional development directions or activities. In addition, teachers initiate a considerable amount of their own professional development. For example, teachers may voluntarily enroll in courses, attend workshops, and participate in other types of activities to enhance their teaching skills and advance on the salary schedule, often using their own time and resources.

Principals' Perceptions of the Influence of Various Groups

Principals' perceptions of the influence of various groups in determining the content of in-service programs provide an indicator-from one perspective at least-of how teacher professional development programs were designed in 1993-94. In SASS, public school principals were asked to rate (on a scale from 0 to 5) how much influence they thought various groups had in determining the content of in-service programs in their schools, including State Departments of Education, school district staff, school boards, principals, teachers, and parents. Overall, public school principals ascribed roughly equal influence to themselves and teachers, and only slightly less to school district staff: 72 percent of public school principals thought that they themselves had a great deal of influence (that is, they rated their influence as 4 or 5); 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 (table 1). State Departments of Education and school boards were seen as considerably less influential: in each case, 21 percent of principals thought that they had a great deal of influence. On the whole, parents were not seen as influential: in 1993-94, only 5 percent of principals thought that parents had a great deal of influence in determining the content of in-service programs for teachers.

The principals' perceptions of the distribution of influence described above are consistent with the traditional treatment of responsibility for professional development as a local issue. The relative allocation of decision-making power among states, districts, and schools is an important aspect of school reform. If states continue to become more deeply involved in professional development, the next SASS administration may show a shift in influence.

Because states can decide how much authority to allocate to local districts, it is not surprising to find considerable variation by state. The percentage of public school principals who thought that the State Department of Education had a great deal of influence ranged from a high of 70 percent in Delaware to a low of 6 percent in Maine, Michigan, and Washington. A strong regional pattern existed as well, with public school principals in the South nearly twice as likely as those in other regions to think that State Departments of Education had a great deal of influence (34 percent versus about 15 percent) (table 2).

 

The CPRE (1997) study of professional development in all 50 states identified 12 states that (in 1996) mandated the amount of time local districts must dedicate to professional development and that also required districts to develop professional development plans.8 (A number of other states required districts to fulfill one or the other of these requirements, but not both.) Many of these 12 states are among those in which the principals were most likely to report that the State Department of Education had a great deal of influence (figure 1). In most of the states with these requirements but in which relatively few principals thought that the state had a great deal of influence, legislation instituting such requirements was passed after the administration of the 1993-94 SASS.

It is worth noting that in many of the states with these requirements, a relatively large percentage of principals also reported that districts had a great deal of influence over the content of in-service programs (figure 2). In other words, the influence of one (states or districts) was not at the expense of the other. This pattern could be interpreted as illustrating how state requirements and local control co-exist.

The percentage of principals who thought that they and teachers had a great deal of influence in determining the content of in-service programs varied by state. However, the pattern was not obviously linked to whether or not the state mandated the amount of time for professional development or required a local plan (figures 3 and 4).

Just as states can decide how much responsibility to give to districts, districts in turn can decide how much authority to share with schools, and principals how much to share with teachers. The percentage of public school principals who thought that various groups had a great deal of influence in determining the content of in-service programs varied by region (table 2). Specifically, public school principals in the Northeast and South were more likely than their colleagues in the Midwest and West to think that districts had a great deal of influence, and were less likely to think that they themselves or teachers had a great deal of influence.

In the private sector, Catholic and nonsectarian school principals were more likely than those in other religious schools to think that they had a great deal of influence in determining the content of in-service programs (93 percent in each case versus 83 percent) (table 3). With respect to teachers' influence, principals in Catholic schools were the most likely to think that teachers had a great deal of influence (75 percent), followed by principals in nonsectarian schools (65 percent), and then principals in other religious schools (50 percent).

The data described above are principals' perceptions only. If district or State Department of Education staff were asked to state their opinions, their answers might be different. Differences in perspective are illustrated in the next section, where principals' and teachers' perceptions about teachers' influence are compared.

Teachers' Perceptions of Their Influence

As indicated previously, new conceptions of effective professional development emphasize that teachers should participate in designing their professional development activities. Teachers are presumed to be good judges of what they need and to get more out of the activities if they have participated in planning the content and format. Like principals, teachers in 1993-94 were asked how much influence they thought that teachers in their schools had in determining the content of in-service programs using a scale of 0-5. (Unlike principals, however, teachers were not asked about others' influence on the content of professional development activities.)

About three-quarters of public school teachers thought that they had influence over the content of in-service programs (31 percent thought they had a great deal of influence, and another 42 percent thought they had some influence), leaving about one-quarter (28 percent) who thought they had little or no influence (table 4). Public and private school teachers were about equally likely to think they had little or no influence; however, private school teachers were more likely than public school teachers to think that they had a great deal of influence.

Among public school teachers, there appears to be some minor variation according to school and teacher characteristics. As school size increased, the proportion of teachers who thought they had a great deal of influence tended to decrease. This variation may be at least partly related to school level, as elementary teachers were more likely than secondary teachers to think that they had a great deal of influence, and elementary schools tend to be smaller than secondary schools (Henke et al. 1996). There was also variation by teacher experience. As years of teaching experience increased, teachers were slightly more likely to think that they had a great deal of influence. This may reflect the added responsibility typically given to more senior teachers.

Principals were far more likely than teachers to think that teachers had a great deal of influence in determining the content of in-service programs. The incongruent opinions of principals and teachers were especially notable in public schools (figure 5). While this might reflect real

differences of opinion, it might also be related to the way in which the questionnaires were designed, because principals and teachers were asked the same question in different contexts. Principals were asked about teachers' influence in a set of questions asking about the influence of other groups as well, while teachers were asked about their influence in a set of questions asking about their own influence over various school policies.

Another possible explanation for the differences between teachers' and principals' perceptions lies in the mechanism by which teacher influence often occurs. For example, if an elementary school principal consults with 5 or 6 teachers on a faculty of 20, this principal may feel that teachers in her school have a great deal of influence, as might the 5 or 6 teachers who were consulted. Those who were not consulted, on the other hand, may perceive teachers as having little influence on professional development in their school. Or, if most of the teachers in a school are consulted but the decisions made do not reflect their opinions, teachers may feel they have little actual influence despite their consulting role.

Conclusion

Responsibility for determining the content of at least one aspect of teacher professional development-in-service programs-was shared in 1993-94. From the principals' perspectives, district staff, principals, and teachers had the most influence. However, there appears to have been considerable variation across states in the amount of influence each group believed that it had. As school reform efforts related to professional development proceed, the distribution of influence may change. How control will be shared among states, districts, schools, and teachers in the future will depend to some degree on the extent to which states choose to promote specific policies related to professional development by providing incentives or instituting mandates and policies promoting site-based management. Little (1993) noted that much reform legislation reflects tension between, on one hand, providing incentives and expanding teachers' leadership opportunities and, on the other hand, tightening controls over teachers and teaching through credential requirements and curriculum standards.


FOOTNOTE:

[8] These included Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.


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