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Toward Better Teaching: Professional Development in 1993-94 / Chapter 7

7. Conclusion

As the reform movement that began in the early 1980s has progressed, the attention paid to the professional development of teachers has increased. Early efforts to improve schools by issuing new rules, creating new mandates, and investing more funds have not yielded the significant advances in student learning that were being sought. Moreover, as larger numbers of businesses have become subject to international economic competition and technology pervades more and more of our working lives, the education goals for all students have become more ambitious. Policymakers, educators, and others increasingly have come to understand that substantial gains in student learning are less likely to come from tinkering on the edges of the system than from effecting fundamental changes in teachers' knowledge and their working relationships with students and other teachers.

The spotlight is now on professional development as crucial to further gains in teacher effectiveness and student achievement, and there is growing agreement among experts that the conventional forms of professional development (mainly short lectures and workshops) are inadequate to the task. It is widely acknowledged that to be effective, professional development must become an essential and integral part of teachers' daily work, not something that teachers do a few times a year on staff development days. Consequently, major changes in the way professional development is conceived and delivered are being recommended, along with changes in school organization and management.

Summary of Findings

Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) data were used to describe various aspects of professional development activity in 1993-94, including who determined the content of professional development opportunities, the formats of professional development activities, participation rates in certain content areas, the types of institutional support that teachers received, and teachers' assessments of the impact of their professional development experiences on their teaching practice. Among the major findings were the following:

  • Responsibility for determining the content of in-service professional development programs is shared by State Departments of Education, the school board, district staff, principals, and teachers. However, from the principals' perspective, local actors-district staff, principals, and teachers-had the most influence.

  • Since the end of the previous school year, almost all teachers had participated in some form of professional development. Participation in district- and school-sponsored workshops and in-service programs was particularly high, reflecting the mandatory nature of much of this type of professional development.

  • Participation in formal induction programs by new public school teachers appears to be increasing. Just over half (56 percent) of public school teachers who were in their first 3 years of teaching reported having participated in such a program.

  • Approximately one-half of all teachers had participated in professional development programs since the end of the last school year on at least one of 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. Most of these programs lasted a day or less.

  • About one-quarter of all teachers had received no tangible support from their schools or districts for professional development activities in their main assignment fields since the end of the last school year. That is, they had not been given release time from teaching, time built into their schedules, reimbursement for tuition or travel, or professional growth credits.

  • Despite the widespread criticism of the current state of professional development by researchers and policymakers, teachers themselves held generally positive views about the impact of professional development on their teaching practices. Moreover, teachers' assessments about the effectiveness of the programs in which they participated were positively associated with their level of participation. In addition, the use of certain instructional practices appears to be linked to participation in specific types of professional development.

Changes in Professional Development Since 1993-94

The system of teacher professional development described in this report is changing. As school reform strategies have evolved since the early 1980s, teacher professional development has received increasing attention. Many recommendations for improving professional development have been put forth, and states are beginning to take a leadership role in implementing systematic reforms of teachers' professional practices.

In 1996, the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future issued a comprehensive set of recommendations intended to cover the entire continuum of teacher development (NCTAF 1996). With respect to in-service teacher education, the report calls for a redirection of funds away from ineffective one-shot workshops to more productive types of professional development such as support for teachers' in-school study groups, peer coaching, and other problem-solving efforts. The Commission also called for greater investment in teacher networks, teacher academies, and school-university partnerships, and recommended that professional development time be consolidated and expanded into a block of time at the end of the school year. To fund these changes, the Commission proposed that $2.75 billion in new state funds be allocated for professional development (that is, over and above what is already being spent). In 1993-94, there were 2.6 million public school teachers in the United States. Thus, this recommendation calls for new expenditures of more than $1,000 per teacher per year.

In a follow-up study issued a year later, NCATF reported important progress in moving toward the recommended directions, despite the conclusion that there is still a long way to go (NCATF 1997). NCATF found that the federal and state governments and a wide range of professional associations and other organizations were paying serious attention to issues of teaching standards and teacher accountability and support for teacher learning and performance. Numerous federal and state initiatives are cited.

Despite the widespread enthusiasm for reform of professional development, policymakers seeking major change face some formidable challenges (Corcoran 1995b). The most significant is how to provide teachers with the time they need to plan their professional development, interact with their colleagues, and develop and implement new approaches. Little support has existed for reducing instructional time, and alternatives that would substantially increase the length of the teacher's day or contract year would be extremely costly (assuming proportionate increases in teachers' salaries). Other challenges cited include funding, competing demands for teachers' time and attention, teachers' attitudes toward professional development activities, incentives for teachers to participate, and public support.

The 1993-94 SASS data provide important baseline information on professional development as practiced in the mid-1990s. The next administration of SASS is scheduled for 1999-2000. By then, reforms now being planned and implemented should have started to make their influence felt by schools and teachers. To determine whether this has happened, however, it will be necessary to substantially revise and expand the number and types of questions asked about professional development.



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