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Toward Better Teaching: Professional Development in 1993-94 / Chapter 4

4. Content and Duration of Professional Development Activities

Much of the criticism leveled at the half-day workshop and other traditional types of professional development is that they fail in both content and duration to address new conceptions of teaching and learning and thus do not modify teachers' practices in any meaningful way. When done well, programs to improve teaching address content areas central to teachers' needs and are of sufficient duration to allow time for teachers to absorb new ideas and test them in their classrooms; get feedback from their peers, exemplary teachers, and others about how they are managing; and then practice some more (Little 1987, 1993).

This section starts with a discussion of the demands placed on today's classroom teachers by school reform efforts and the implications of these demands for the content and conditions of their professional development experiences. It then uses SASS data to describe teachers' participation in professional development in selected content areas and examines the duration of these professional development activities.

New Demands Placed on Teachers and Implications for Professional Development

Today's work environment requires schools to prepare the vast majority of students to reach skill levels once needed only by those applying to selective colleges and universities. More than 10 years ago, the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy (1986) argued that the kind and quality of education that was previously reserved for a small elite is now required for all students if the nation is to remain competitive in the global economy. To meet this challenge, teachers must acquire a greater in-depth knowledge of the subject matter in their assignment field and teaching methods appropriate to that field than ever before (NCTAF 1996).

Teachers are being asked to change how they interact with students. The professional consensus about what constitutes exemplary practice has shifted from a model of "teaching as telling" to "teaching as coaching," with students actively involved in constructing knowledge. Most teachers have not been trained for this type of teaching, which has become known as "teaching for understanding" (Cohen, McLaughlin, and Talbert 1993). Teaching in these new ways also requires a depth of understanding of the subject matter that not all teachers have. Accompanying new ways of teaching are new ways of assessing students' progress, which teachers must also learn to use.

Teachers are also being asked to use new technologies that are often unfamiliar. In 1994, there was one computer available for instructional use for every nine students, and 35 percent of public schools had access to the Internet in the United States. In addition, 41 percent of teachers had a television in their classroom (and virtually all had one in their school) (U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment 1995). Teachers are expected to use these and other technologies when they teach, but many received their teacher education before this technology was available for the classroom. The need for professional development in the use of technology is even greater today than it was at the time of the SASS survey, as the percentage of schools having access to the Internet has more than doubled since 1994. In 1997, 78 percent of public schools had access to the Internet, up from 65 percent in 1996, 50 percent in 1995, and 35 percent in 1994. Teachers will be expected to use this technology not only as a classroom tool, but also for other activities such as record keeping, communicating with parents, distance learning, professional development, and curriculum development (NCES 1998).

In addition, teachers increasingly are being asked to take on expanded roles and responsibilities outside the classroom, especially in schools where site-based management is being implemented (Mohrman and Wohlstetter 1994). Recommended principles of effective professional development call for increased integration of professional development activities with school improvement goals and more collegial interaction among teachers.

Finally, teachers are being asked to manage classrooms that rapidly are becoming more diverse culturally and linguistically. In 1993-94, 5 percent of all public school students were limited English proficient (LEP) (Henke et al. 1996); 46 percent of all public schools had at least some LEP students; and in five states, 75 percent or more of the schools had such students (U.S. Department of Education, NCES 1997a).15 Overall, 42 percent of public school teachers had LEP students, although for 75 percent of teachers, LEP students made up less than 10 percent of their classes (Henke et al. 1997). Also in 1993-94, 32 percent of the nation's students, but only 12 percent of the teachers, belonged to minority racial-ethnic groups (Henke et al. 1996). Thus, today's teachers must understand how to reach students from many different backgrounds and from backgrounds different from their own.

To meet the demands just outlined, teachers must continually update their knowledge and skills in the subject matter they teach and in teaching methods, including such reform-oriented strategies as inquiry-based instruction, use of manipulatives, cooperative learning, strategies for dealing with student diversity, and both standard and alternative forms of student assessment (Mullens et al. 1996). In addition, they must be prepared to use computers and other advanced technology in the classroom (Means 1994).

Participation Rates by Content Area

In the 1993-94 SASS, teachers were asked if, since the end of the last school year, they had participated in any in-service or professional development programs that focused on the following topics: uses of educational technology for instruction (e.g., use of computers, satellite learning); methods of teaching in their subject field; in-depth study in their subject field; student assessment (e.g., methods of testing, evaluation, performance assessment); and cooperative learning in the classroom. If the answer was "yes," teachers were then asked whether the program had lasted 8 hours or less, 9-32 hours, or more than 32 hours.

It is important to keep in mind that the participation rates described here cover only the period from the end of the last school year until teachers were surveyed during the 1993-94 school year. Consequently, they give no indication of the total amount of attention teachers have devoted to professional development on a particular topic in recent years or throughout their careers. Furthermore, there is no standard against which to compare single-year participation rates. For example, while it may be widely accepted that almost all teachers need training in using educational technology for instruction, it would be difficult to translate that belief into an expected or acceptable rate for a single school year. Nevertheless, as the importance of certain types of training are recognized and professional development programs are developed and implemented, one would expect participation rates to increase over time (although not indefinitely). In the next administration of SASS, it will be possible to monitor these types of changes.

In 1993-94, 63 percent of all teachers reported that they had participated in an in-service or professional development program on methods of teaching in their subject field since the end of the last school year (table 11). About half of all teachers had participated in programs on student assessment (50 percent) and cooperative learning (49 percent), and only slightly fewer (47 percent) had participated in programs on the use of educational technology for instruction. The least frequently undertaken programs focused on in-depth study in their subject field (29 percent).

Public school teachers were more likely than private school teachers to participate in professional development programs on each of these topics (figure 8).

Factors Affecting Participation Rates

As with the different formats for professional development activities (workshops, courses, and so on), not all teachers participated in professional development programs on these topics at the same rate. Nor is this surprising. Rates of participation in professional development on particular topics reflect such factors as the need for help (as perceived by teachers themselves in the case of voluntary participation, and by those who choose the topics in the case of mandatory participation); the availability of resources; the priority given to professional development in specific content areas; the priority that schools and districts give to professional development generally; the extent to which training is voluntary or mandatory; and teachers' motivation to participate voluntarily.

For example, teachers in schools that have just adopted a new mathematics curriculum might need help implementing new instructional methods, while teachers in schools that have not changed their curriculum would not have this particular need. Similarly, teachers in schools that have just purchased new computers and software probably would have a greater need for training in the use of technology than would teachers in schools without computers. Teachers in communities where student populations are more diverse are more likely than their colleagues in other communities to feel the need for training in working with students from backgrounds different from their own.

Some of the characteristics of schools and teachers that would be expected to affect participation can be measured with SASS data. For example, one would expect more experienced teachers would need more training in using technology for instruction or new forms of assessment than would their less experienced colleagues who had just completed their preservice professional education. However, measures of other important characteristics, such as those related to school and district fiscal resources, are not available in the SASS data.

Because many teacher and school characteristics are interrelated, a multivariate analysis of each of the five topic areas described above was conducted to identify the separate effects of various teacher and school characteristics. A logistic regression model was used to examine the teacher, school, and district factors related to whether teachers participated in professional development in each of five content areas: use of educational technology for instruction; methods of teaching in teachers' subject fields; in-depth study in their fields; student assessment; and cooperative learning in the classroom.

As in the rest of this report, data on public and private school teachers were analyzed separately because of the differing structures of professional development in public and private schools. The teacher and school characteristics controlled for in this analysis of professional development by content area were the same as those controlled for in the analysis of participation in the types of activities already described. The results of the logistic regression analyses can be found in appendix B (table B2). As was done previously, the odds ratios generated by the regression analyses were used to adjust the estimates of the participation rates for teachers in order to control for teacher and school characteristics (tables 12a and 12b). The differences discussed in the rest of this section refer to the adjusted differences. As before, some intermediate categories were combined or omitted, but footnotes point out instances where relationships shown in the appendix table are masked.

The rest of this section describes participation in each of the five content areas on which SASS collected data. This does not purport to be a comprehensive examination of the content of teacher professional development, because teachers could have participated in professional development on many other topics in 1993-94. However, participation in professional development in these particular topics provides an indication of the extent to which teachers are developing skills that appear to be demanded by the new directions school reform is taking.

Use of Educational Technology for Instruction

The federal government is strongly supporting professional development in the use of technology for instruction. The Goals 2000: Educate America Act of 1994 requires states to address the use of technology in their state plans and authorizes grants to states to increase the use of educational technologies for student learning and staff development.16 Several other programs to support technology-related teacher training are being funded by the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Commerce.

States also have encouraged training in the use of new technologies such as computers, networks, integrated learning systems, interactive videos, videotapes, modems, CD-ROMs, and satellite dishes. A national study of state education agencies in 1993 found that 43 states provided technical assistance to districts or schools in the use of these technologies, and 40 states provided training in their use (Levine 1996).

In at least one area-advanced telecommunications-the use of technology in the schools is increasing rapidly. In 1996, 65 percent of all public schools had Internet access, up from 35 percent in 1994, and an additional 30 percent planned to have it by 2000 (Heaviside, Riggins, and Farris 1997). Thirteen percent of public schools reported that training for teachers was mandated (by the school, district, or a certification agency), and another 31 percent provided incentives to encourage teachers to obtain training in the use of advanced telecommunications.

A 1995 study by the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) on the use of computers in schools found that most teachers felt inadequately trained to use technology effectively in teaching. Although teachers were using computers for basic tasks such as word processing much more often than in the past, they were having difficulty integrating technology into the curriculum (U.S. Congress, OTA 1995). Thus, one might expect districts and schools to make training in the use of technology for instruction a priority and teachers to be highly motivated to seek such training.

As indicated above, 47 percent of all teachers in 1993-94 had participated in training in the use of educational technology in instruction since the end of the last school year (table 11). In both public and private schools, more experienced teachers (those with at least 10 years of experience) were more likely than new teachers (those in their first 3 years of teaching) to have participated in an in-service or professional development program on the use of educational technology in instruction (tables 12a and 12b).17 More experienced teachers are likely to be older than new teachers and, therefore, are less likely to have learned computer skills while in college.

In addition to experience, public school teachers' participation was associated with their level of formal education, and private school teachers' participation was associated with their employment status. Public school teachers with advanced degrees were slightly more likely than their colleagues without advanced degrees to have participated in training on the use of technology in instruction. Among private school teachers, full-time teachers were more likely than part-time teachers to have undertaken formal professional development on the use of technology for instruction.

Among public school teachers, participation was lower in schools with a large number of low-income students, but none of the other school characteristics presented in table 12a were related to teachers' participation.18 Among private school teachers, the participation rate was lower in small schools than in large schools and in other (i.e., non-Catholic) religious schools than in nonsectarian schools. In both public and private schools, these differences may reflect variations in the availability of resources for advanced technology and training in its use.

In most states, participation rates ranged between about 40 and 60 percent (figure 9 and table 13).19 In some of those states where the participation rates were considerably higher, there has been recent specific action to expand this type of training. In Kentucky, for example, the state has made a significant investment to prepare teachers and administrators to use the Kentucky Educational Technology System (KETS) and has received federal funds from several programs to help support this type of professional development. In Alaska, the state has addressed the challenge of educating children in remote rural areas by developing interactive telecommunication formats (CPRE 1997).

Methods of Teaching in Their Field

In the 1980s, education researchers began studying "pedagogical content knowledge" and its relationship to the quality of instruction (Grossman 1989; Gudmundsdottir and Shulman 1987). These researchers found that expert teachers, in addition to their knowledge of the subject matter itself, have distinct knowledge about teaching in each subject, including the kinds of misunderstandings students often develop at each stage of the learning process and the kinds of teaching techniques that help students address those misunderstandings.

Some of the school reform efforts that began in the 1980s require teachers to reconsider their approaches to teaching. In each of the core academic subjects, and others as well, new state curriculum frameworks, textbooks, and testing procedures have pressed teachers on many fronts (Little 1993). Surveys conducted in 1980 and 1993 showed that almost half of the states (24 in all) changed their high school curricular policies during this period, taking actions such as developing curricular frameworks, specifying learning outcomes, and developing course specifications (Levine 1996). The SASS data should reflect assistance provided to teachers to meet these demands, and they do.

In 1993-94, almost two-thirds (63 percent) of all teachers had participated in professional development programs on methods of teaching in their field since the end of the previous school year, more than in any of the other content areas of professional development discussed here (table 11). However, because of the general way in which the question was asked in SASS, there is no way to determine the extent to which the methods teachers heard about in these programs were related to new approaches to teaching being advocated.

Elementary school teachers in both sectors were more likely than secondary school teachers to participate in programs on methods of teaching in their subject fields (tables 12a and 12b). New public school teachers were slightly more likely than their colleagues with 10 or more years of experience to participate in these types of programs.20 Among private school teachers, experience was not a factor, but employment status was, with full-time teachers considerably more likely than part-time teachers to participate.

In the public sector, teachers in schools with high-minority enrollments were more likely than those in schools with low-minority enrollments to participate in professional development programs on methods of teaching in their field. It is possible that teachers in schools with high-minority enrollments might perceive a greater need for such assistance. However, figure 10 suggests an alternative or additional explanation. It shows that the participation rates in California and Texas, two large states with relatively high minority enrollments,21 are among those of the top five states. These two states have a large enough number of teachers to affect the national average. Thus, it seems possible that state differences rather than minority enrollment may account for the differential rates. California, for example, has been particularly active since the mid-1980s in developing curriculum frameworks to guide instructional activities at the local level (CPRE 1997), and these frameworks are likely to lead to professional development in this area. Overall, however, participation in professional development on subject-specific teaching methods varied little by state.

Among both public and private school teachers, the size of their schools and type of community in which they were located were related to their professional development activities on subject-specific teaching methods. Teachers in small schools and schools in rural areas were less likely than their colleagues in large schools and schools in urban fringe communities, respectively, to engage in a professional development program on methods of teaching in their subject area. Finally, among private school teachers, those in Catholic schools were more likely than those in nonsectarian schools to participate in these programs.

In-Depth Study in Subject Area

In addition to their subject-specific pedagogical expertise, contemporary educators and education researchers emphasize that teachers must have a thorough grounding in the subjects they teach. Those who know their subjects well, it is argued, are better able to respond to students' questions and comments: because they know the terrain well, they can be effective guides for their students (NCTAF 1996). Professional development of this sort is often voluntary, taking the form of college or adult education courses, and therefore may be more subject to individual teachers' motivation (for which we have no measure) than to the teacher and school characteristics measured by SASS. In the public sector, elementary school teachers were slightly more likely than secondary school teachers to undertake this type of professional development, and in both sectors, teachers with advanced degrees were slightly more likely than teachers with less formal education to do so (tables 12a and 12b).

In public schools, teachers in central cities and high-minority enrollment schools were more likely than their colleagues in urban fringe communities and schools with no minority enrollment to undertake in-depth study in their subject area. The reasons for the relationship between minority enrollment and participation in professional development programs on subject matter may be similar to those suggested above regarding professional development on subject-specific teaching methods, as California and Texas again appeared to be among the states with the highest participation rates (figure 11). As with professional development in subject-specific teaching methods, there was little variation by state. In private schools, teachers in nonsectarian schools were more likely to participate in in-depth study in their areas than were teachers in "other" religious schools.

Student Assessment

New methods of student assessment are among the innovations that have been widely advocated as appropriate to contemporary school reform goals. New approaches to student assessment put less emphasis on multiple-choice and short-answer tests to evaluate student progress, and more emphasis on methods that involve including extended-response questions on tests and preparing portfolios of students' work in order to evaluate their development of higher order skills. Beyond innovations in student assessment, some researchers have found that many teachers misuse or use ineffectively traditional forms of assessment (Brookhart 1993; Stiggins and Conklin 1992). Some believe that inadequate preservice education in this important aspect of teaching is responsible, while others find that teachers feel profound conflicts between the science and ethics of student assessment. Whatever the cause, these researchers argue that teachers need high-quality professional development in both traditional and innovative forms of assessment.

In 1993-94, one-half of all teachers had participated in professional development programs on student assessment since the end of the last school year (table 11). In the public sector, teachers' participation was not related to the teacher characteristics examined, but was related to several characteristics of their schools and students (table 12a). Public school teachers in urban fringe schools where there was high minority enrollment, urban-fringe schools, and high-poverty schools were more likely than their colleagues in schools where there was no minority enrollment, rural schools, and low-poverty schools, respectively, to participate in professional development programs on student assessment.

In 1993, many states were developing alternative assessment procedures: 35 states had developed or were developing alternative state assessments in writing, 29 were doing so in mathematics, 25 in reading, and 23 in science (Levine 1996). The SASS data indicate that the rates of participation in professional development programs on student assessment were particularly high in four states: Kentucky (87 percent), California (68 percent), Mississippi (68 percent), and Connecticut (62 percent) (figure 12). In three of these states-Kentucky, California, and Mississippi-the state education agencies were developing or implementing new student assessment initiatives, and these may account for at least some teachers' participation in professional development on assessment in these states (CPRE 1997).

Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning, which is frequently advocated as a way of helping students learn higher order thinking skills, involves students working together in groups to solve a problem or produce a product. By engaging in cooperative learning, students are expected to help each other learn rather than compete with each other for grades or work in isolation (Covington 1992). Research suggests that cooperative learning activities can support motivation to learn, particularly among low-achieving students, and can improve social relations among children of different racial, ethnic, or cultural backgrounds (Cohen 1994; Johnson and Johnson 1994; Slavin 1996). In addition, these learning activities may help students build the social skills necessary to work effectively on a team-skills that employers find valuable (Murnane and Levy 1996).

As with professional development programs on assessment, in the public sector, none of the teacher characteristics examined was related to participation in professional development on cooperative learning once other teacher and school characteristics were taken into account (table 12a). However, public school teachers in central cities were more likely than their colleagues in urban fringe communities or large towns to learn about cooperative learning through formal professional development programs. In the private sector, elementary, full-time, and experienced teachers were more likely than secondary, part-time, and new teachers, respectively, to learn about cooperative learning through professional development programs (table 12b). In addition, teachers in Catholic schools were more likely than teachers in nonsectarian private schools to attend programs on cooperative learning.

Teachers in four states and the District of Columbia were especially likely to participate in professional development on cooperative learning (figure 13). These states are Kentucky (73 percent), Texas (66 percent), Mississippi (65 percent), and Hawaii (62 percent). Sixty-eight percent of teachers in the District of Columbia participated. In Kentucky, Mississippi, and Texas, the activity appears to be related to recent large-scale state-level initiatives to improve schools generally or professional development specifically (CPRE 1997).

Duration of Programs

Teachers who participated in professional development programs on each of the topics just discussed were asked how long the program had lasted: 8 hours or less; 9-32 hours; or more than 32 hours. Participation in professional development programs lasting more than 1 day was relatively rare, and programs lasting more than 32 hours, very rare (figure 14 and table 14). Thus, at least in 1993-94, most professional development activities followed the traditional format of a program that lasted one day or less. It should be pointed out, however, that the data do not indicate how many programs an individual teacher participated in, so the cumulative hours spent on a topic over the course of a year might be greater than those indicated here. In addition, some of these short-term programs may have had follow-up activities that are not captured in this report.

Conclusion

Approximately one-half of all teachers had participated in at least one professional development program since the end of the last school year on three topics associated with recent 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. Teachers' assessments of the impact of the professional development programs in which they had participated since the end of the last school year are discussed in section 6 of this report.

The extent to which these programs have some of the characteristics of high-quality professional development as described by the U.S. Department of Education and others is unknown. The SASS data indicate that most programs still last a day or less, which is not consistent with calls to create professional development programs that last longer. However, the kinds of follow-up activities (if any) that are associated with these short programs are unknown. A final point to keep in mind is that the range of activities considered as professional development has expanded in recent years to include not only participation in formal programs, but also less formal activities such as networking with other teachers, using the Internet, conducting research, and participating in mentoring programs. Thus, the data reported here may understate the amount of effort that teachers are devoting to developing their knowledge and teaching skills in these topical areas.


FOOTNOTES:

[15] The five states were Arizona, California, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Texas.

[16] It is premature for the effects of this legislation to be evident in the SASS:1993-94 data analyzed for this report.

[17] Table B2 presents regression results showing that new teachers were less likely than those at all other experience levels to have participated in this type of professional development.

[18] Table B-2 presents regression results indicating that teachers in schools with 6 to 20 percent and 21 to 40 percent low-income students were less likely than teachers in schools with 5 percent or less low-income students to have participated in professional development programs on using educational technology.

[19] The regression results in table B-2 show that teachers in the South were more likely than those in other regions to have participated in training in the uses of educational technology for instruction.

[20] However, they were less likely than teachers with 4-9 years of experience to do so, according to the regression results in table B2.

[21] Overall, 33 percent of the nation's 41.6 million public school students were nonwhite; in California (with 4.8 million students), 54 percent were nonwhite; and in Texas (with 3.3 million students), 49 percent were nonwhite (Henke et al. 1996).


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