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Toward Better Teaching: Professional Development in 1993-94 / Chapter 3

3. Format of Professional Development

Whereas professional development once was thought of as a particular kind of activity such as a workshop or course, more recent conceptions include a broader range of activities that emphasize ongoing rather than one time events and focus on teachers' own practice rather than someone else's pedagogical formula. Thus, activities such as joint work (where teachers share responsibilities that require teacher cooperation and interdependence), teacher networks, collaborations between schools and colleges, professional development schools, and participation in the assessment process leading to National Board certification are now viewed as professional development activities (Corcoran 1995a; Darling-Hammond 1994; Little 1993; NCTAF 1996; Renyi 1996). In 1993-94, when SASS was administered, professional development participation in these types of activities was not widespread enough to measure meaningfully through a national survey. However, this may change in the future.

The 1993-94 SASS questions on professional development asked teachers about their participation in district- or school-provided workshops and lectures and about enrolling in courses or participating in professional growth activities provided by professional associations. They were also asked if they had participated in a formal induction program in their first year of teaching or served as a mentor in a formal induction program. This section examines teacher participation in these various forms of professional development without regard to their content or duration, both of which are discussed in the next section.

Induction Programs for New Teachers

The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF 1996) noted that new teachers are often simply assigned to classes and left to "sink or swim" with little or no support from more experienced teachers, and argued that this lack of support for new teachers contributes to high turnover and less effective teaching. Increasingly, schools and districts are implementing formal induction programs to help beginning teachers adjust to their new responsibilities and working environments. Through these programs, experienced teachers help new teachers by providing guidance on pedagogical challenges and chores, ethical dilemmas, student assessment, and classroom management, and by familiarizing new teachers with school programs, policies, and resources.

In 1993-94, about one-quarter of all teachers (27 percent of public school teachers and 24 percent of private school teachers) reported that they had participated in a formal teacher induction program during their first year of teaching (figure 6 and table 5). Participation rates appear to have increased dramatically in the public sector in recent years. This conclusion is based on the observation that participation rates were much higher for public school teachers who had been teaching for less than 10 years in 1993-94 than for those who had been teaching longer, and that 56 percent of public school teachers who were in their first 3 years of teaching in 1993-94 reported having participated in such a program.9

Private schools appear to have had formal induction programs in place for a longer period of time than public schools: among teachers with 20 or more years of teaching experience, private school teachers were more likely than public school teachers to report that they had participated in an induction program in their first year of teaching (25 percent versus 16 percent). However, the participation rate of private school teachers in their first 3 years of teaching (28 percent) was similar to that of their colleagues with 20 or more years of experience (25 percent). In other words, the participation rate appears to have remained relatively stable over time in the private sector.

Although participation in a formal induction program by new teachers (those in their first 3 years of teaching) was much greater in the public than private sector in 1993-94 (56 percent versus 28 percent), the lower participation rate of private school teachers does not necessarily signify a lesser commitment on the part of private schools to helping new teachers. Because private schools tend to be small, assistance to new teachers may be more informal. There may be a similar explanation for the decline in participation rates in public schools as school and district size decrease.

About 11 percent of all teachers served as a mentor or master teacher in a formal teacher induction program in 1993-94 (table 6). As one might expect, the percentage of teachers serving in this capacity increased with their experience and education. In addition, teachers' participation increased with school size (in both sectors) and district size for public school teachers.

Ongoing Professional Development Activities

Most teachers participate in a variety of formal and informal professional development activities on a continuing basis throughout their teaching careers. Traditional formats for these activities include half- or full-day workshops and programs sponsored by districts, schools, professional associations, and other organizations,10 and courses taken outside the K-12 education system, such as university extension, adult education, or college courses.

Some of this participation is mandatory, involving either a fixed commitment of time or required attendance at a particular event. Many districts and schools set aside a certain number of noninstructional days each year for staff development, and some build time into teachers' work schedules for staff development (dismissing students early once a week or once a month, for example). Course taking and continuing education to meet state requirements for certification and recertification would probably be considered mandatory by most teachers because of the consequences of failing to participate, but these requirements typically involve quite modest commitments of time.

The extent to which levels of participation are attributable to requirements associated with certification and recertification will vary from state to state because the requirements vary widely among states, and did so at the time the SASS data were collected. For example, in 1993-94, teachers in Alabama could be certified at four different, but overlapping, levels (preschool through grade 6, grades 4-8, grades 9-12, and all grades). Requirements for the standard certificate for each level included internships and a fixed number of semester hours of study in general studies, to which were added semester hour requirements in one's teaching field and pedagogy for an advanced certificate. In Alaska, on the other hand, certification requirements were not differentiated by level, in part because they were stated in terms of program completion (e.g., completion of a bachelor's degree and approved teacher education programs from an accredited institution), rather than semester hours of coursework in particular fields. Certification requirements in Alaska also included recommendations from the postsecondary institution in which training was undertaken. In neither state was an examination required, although examinations were required in almost every other state (Tryneski 1993).

Similarly, recertification requirements varied among states in 1993-94. In Alaska, renewal of initial certification required completion of six semester hours of training, three of which could be nonacademic training (i.e., workshops, institutes, or travel) that had been approved prior to completion of the training in question. In California, renewal of certification required 150 clock hours of planned professional growth activities and one semester of teaching experience (Tryneski 1993).

Other professional development activity may be voluntary, as when teachers choose to attend workshops, institutes, or classes or participate in activities sponsored by professional associations or other organizations. Sometimes teachers are given financial support or release time (discussed later in this report), but often they use their own time and money. Districts encourage some voluntary professional development by providing financial incentives. For example, because teacher compensation is almost always based on a combination of education and experience, teachers have a strong incentive to earn additional college credits and advanced degrees or certificates in order to be eligible for promotions and salary increases. In 1993-94, the scheduled salary for public school teachers with a bachelor's degree and no experience averaged $21,900. The average scheduled salary for teachers with a master's degree and no experience, however, was $24,000, a difference of more than $2,000 per year (Henke et al. 1997).

The 1993-94 SASS asked teachers whether they had participated in certain types of professional development activities since the end of the last school year, including district- and school-sponsored workshops or in-service programs, university extension or adult education courses, college courses in their fields, and professional growth activities sponsored by professional associations. These data provide information on the number of teachers who participated in specific types of professional development activities during the summer and current school year and allow researchers to examine how participation rates vary by teacher, school, and district characteristics, and by state. When considering rates of participation, it is important to keep in mind that the data provide no information on the intensity of participation-that is, the frequency or duration of the activities. A teacher indicating that he had participated in a school-sponsored workshop since the end of the last school year, for example, might have participated in one workshop or many, and one might have lasted two hours while another might have lasted two weeks.

Participation Rates

In 1993-94, 96 percent of public school teachers reported having participated in one or more of the types of professional activities they were asked about (figure 7). Participation rates in district- and school-sponsored workshops and in-service training were high: in 1993-94, 88 percent of public school teachers reported that they had participated in district-sponsored programs since the end of the last school year, and 81 percent reported having participated in school-sponsored programs. These high rates reflect the fact that these programs are typically conducted at times when teachers must be in school and that participation in these programs is often required.

The next most common type of professional development was professional growth activities sponsored by professional associations. In 1993-94, about half (51 percent) of all public school teachers reported that they had participated in such activities since the end of the last school year. These activities are more likely than school- and district-sponsored programs to be voluntary and to occur outside of school hours or the school year.

A substantially lower proportion of public school teachers had taken college courses in their field or adult education classes since the end of the previous school year (25 percent in each case). As indicated previously, teachers may take such courses for many reasons: to obtain certification in a new field, maintain their present certification, earn an advanced degree, qualify for a salary increase, pursue an academic or personal interest, or keep current in their field. Because such courses typically require a much larger commitment of time (and sometimes teachers' own money) than the other types of professional activities discussed here and require that this time be spent outside the school day, most teachers do not engage in this type of course taking every year.

Sometimes teachers take courses to retrain in new areas where teacher shortages exist (sometimes at district expense) and then switch assignment fields. In the public sector, bilingual/ESL and special education teachers were more likely than teachers in other fields to report having taken field-related college courses since the end of the last school year (table 7). These two fields happen to be among the fields in which vacancies are the most difficult to fill (Henke et al. 1996).

Participation in the types of professional development activities described here was consistently higher for public school teachers than private school teachers. However, the differences are not as large as one might expect given the fact that most states require certification and recertification of public school teachers, but only some impose the same requirements on private school teachers. Possible reasons include the fact that some private schools require teachers to earn certificates regardless of state requirements, and that a majority of private schools (63 percent in 1993-94) maintain salary schedules with steps based on education and experience (Henke et al. 1996). Furthermore, private school teachers have a number of incentives independent of state or school requirements to acquire and maintain certification, such as standing in the profession, marketability, and mobility.

Although these data indicate that private school teachers participate less than public school teachers in certain types of structured professional development, there are many other types of professional development activity (including some of the newer types described earlier) that are not reported here because such data have not been collected. For example, informal mentoring or teacher collaboration within a school or between teachers at different schools is thought to have a strong effect on teachers' professional skills and knowledge, but this type of professional development activity cannot be measured using the 1993-94 SASS data. Thus, the data do not allow any overall public-private comparisons about the total amount of attention accorded professional development in the two sectors.

Variation by Teacher and School Characteristics

While participation in diverse professional development activities was widespread during 1993-94, not all teachers participated at the same rate or in the same types of activities. Because participation in some types of professional development is completely at the teacher's discretion (such as taking a particular college course or participating in workshops sponsored by professional associations), one might expect participation in at least some types of professional development activities to vary with the characteristics of teachers (such as education, experience, level, and assignment field).

Participation in other types of professional development activities-such as workshops sponsored by schools and districts-is often required or strongly encouraged. Teacher participation in these types of professional development activities might therefore depend less on the characteristics of teachers and more on the characteristics of the schools and districts where they work. Thus, participation in these types of professional development activities might depend on the characteristics of schools (such as size, student body composition, region, and community type); principals (such as education and experience); and districts or affiliation group in the case of private schools (such as size).

Participation in professional development activities also depends on the availability of opportunities (such as programs sponsored by professional associations and nearby colleges with appropriate course offerings). Therefore, one might expect participation in these types of professional development activities to vary with region or urbanicity or with teachers' assignment fields.

Because many of these teacher and school characteristics are interrelated, a multivariate analysis of each of the five types of professional development activities described above was conducted to identify the separate effects of various teacher and school characteristics. A logistic regression model was used to examine the factors related to whether teachers participated in each of five types of professional development activities: district-sponsored workshops; school-sponsored workshops; continuing education or adult education courses; college courses in their subject area; and professional growth activities sponsored by professional associations. Data from public and private school teachers were analyzed separately because of the differing structures of professional development in public and private schools.

The results of the logistic regression analyses are displayed in appendix B (table B-1), and the methodology is described in more detail in appendix C. To simplify the presentation of the results of the analysis, the odds ratios generated by the regression analyses were used to adjust the estimates of teacher participation rates to control for teacher and school characteristics (tables 8a and 8b). The differences discussed in the rest of this section refer to the adjusted differences. Because the adjusted values necessarily refer to pairs of variables and presenting all possible pairs would be cumbersome, some intermediate categories were combined or omitted. Instances where this masks relationships shown in the appendix table are footnoted.

Workshops and In-Service Training

In the public sector, full-time and experienced teachers (with 10 or more years experience) were more likely than part-time and new teachers (in their first 3 years of teaching), respectively, to have participated in district- and school-sponsored workshops (table 8a).11 However, the adjusted differences were relatively minor (5 percentage points or less), probably because participation in district- and school-sponsored workshops is frequently mandatory and scheduled during teachers' regular work days. Part-time teachers may not be required to attend as many work-shops, and part-time and new teachers tend to participate less frequently in voluntary activities-part-time teachers perhaps because of their nonteaching-related commitments, and new teachers perhaps because they are fully occupied with the demands of their new profession (or course taking, as described below) and have little time to devote to voluntary workshops and programs.

As in the public sector, full-time and more experienced private school teachers were also more likely than part-time or new private school teachers to participate in workshops sponsored by their school or an organization with which their school was affiliated (table 8b). The adjusted differences were about 9 to 10 percentage points.

For the most part, public school teacher participation was not related to school characteristics. Although teachers in central city schools were slightly less likely than those in urban fringe/large town communities to participate in district-sponsored workshops or in-service programs, they were slightly more likely than urban fringe/large town teachers to attend school-sponsored programs (table 8a). Teachers in schools with high minority enrollments (more than 50 percent) were more likely than those in schools with no minority enrollment to participate in school-sponsored workshops or in-service training. This might be related to higher levels of categorical funding, some of which is often earmarked for teacher professional development, in high minority schools.

Unlike the public sector, teachers in large private schools were more likely than those in small private schools to participate in school-sponsored programs (table 8b). Finally, teachers in Catholic schools were more likely than those in nonsectarian schools to participate in workshops or in-service programs sponsored by their schools or organizations with which their schools were affiliated.

Professional Growth Opportunities Provided by Professional Associations12

Many teachers turn to professional associations for help in keeping up-to-date in their fields: 51 percent of all public school teachers and 43 percent of all private school teachers had participated in professional growth activities sponsored by professional associations since the end of the last school year (figure 7).

In both sectors, participation was greater among teachers with more experience and more formal education than among those with less experience and less formal education (tables 8a and 8b). Teachers with 10 or more years of experience were more likely than teachers in their first 3 years of teaching to participate, as were teachers with master's degrees or higher compared with teachers with bachelor's degrees.

In the public sector, participation was also greater for elementary than secondary teachers and for part-time than full-time teachers. Among public school teachers, those in rural communities were slightly less likely than their colleagues in urban fringe communities or large towns to participate in activities sponsored by professional associations, perhaps because fewer professional association activities are available in remote areas.

In the private sector, participation did not vary by level and was greater among full-time than part-time teachers. Participation was also higher in Catholic than nonsectarian schools and in nonsectarian schools than other religious schools, perhaps because of differential use of salary schedules or incentives to participate in professional development.

Course Taking

Teachers frequently enroll in college, university extension, or adult education courses. They may do so to earn continuing education credits toward advancement on the salary schedule or recertification, to earn advanced degrees or credentials (which also may permit them to advance on the salary schedule), to retrain to teach in another field, or to increase their expertise in the field in which they are currently teaching. In 1993-94, 25 percent of public school teachers had taken college courses in their subject fields since the end of the last school year and 25 percent had taken university extension or adult education courses (table 7). In the private sector, the percentages of teachers taking each type of course were also similar (20 and 21 percent, respectively), but in each case they were slightly lower than in the public sector.

In both sectors, new teachers (those with 3 years of experience or less) were more likely than teachers with 10 or more years of experience to have taken college courses in their subject field (tables 8a and 8b).13 Among public school teachers, those with advanced degrees were less likely than those with a bachelor's degree or less to take courses in their field. These differences may reflect the relatively large numbers of new teachers working on master's degrees or taking courses needed to obtain full certification or qualify for salary increases.

Since taking courses is more likely to be voluntary than is participation in district- or school-sponsored workshops, the school characteristics measured here are likely to be less important than teacher characteristics in explaining variation.14 However, participation was higher among public school teachers in small schools with enrollments of less than 150 than it was among their colleagues in large schools with enrollments of 750 or more (table 8a). Smaller schools might offer fewer subject-specific staff development activities than larger schools, leading teachers to turn elsewhere for training in their fields. Teachers in Catholic schools were more likely than those in nonsectarian schools to take college courses in their subject field, but this may reflect a greater use of salary schedules in Catholic schools (table 8b).

Choosing Among Types of Professional Development Activities

The above discussion focused on the different types of professional development activities and how participation varied by teacher and school characteristics. To summarize the discussion of participation, this section takes a different perspective and looks at the choices teachers make among types of professional development activities. Teachers have a limited amount of time (and limited personal resources, which they sometimes must use) to spend on professional development activity, so greater participation in one type may be accompanied by less participation in others.

Full-time public school teachers were more likely than their part-time colleagues to attend school- or district-sponsored workshops, but less likely to participate in professional growth activities sponsored by professional associations (table 8a). In other words, full-time public school 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.

Among both public and private school teachers, teachers with 10 or more years of experience were more likely than new teachers to participate in school- and district- (or affiliation-) sponsored programs and in professional growth activities sponsored by professional associations (tables 8a and 8b). New teachers, on the other hand, were more likely than the experienced teachers to enroll in college courses in their subject field. This suggests that new teachers may be focusing their professional development time on earning advanced degrees or credentials or, if they are not fully certified, taking the required courses they need to continue teaching or gain some mobility.

Variation by State

Teacher participation in the different types of professional development activities varied considerably across states (tables 9 and 10), especially with respect to the types of professional development that do not typically involve mandatory participation on a regular basis. For example, teacher participation rates for taking college courses in their subjects ranged from a high of 56 percent in Alaska to a low of 15 percent in North Carolina, and participation rates in professional growth activities sponsored by professional associations ranged from 77 percent in New Hampshire to 36 percent in Georgia.

Although teacher and school characteristics are not uniformly distributed across states, the amount of variation among states is too large to be attributable solely to differences in the distribution of teacher and school characteristics. Coupled with the relatively limited amount of variation by teacher and school characteristics, these findings suggest that state policies may have a relatively large impact on the amount and types of professional development. For example, Kentucky teachers have high participation in district- and school-sponsored in-service training, which is consistent with the strong emphasis on teacher professional development associated with implementation of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 and the expanded number of days of professional development it provided for (CPRE 1997). State variation may reflect different opportunities available to teachers as well as government policies, however. For example, teachers have easier access to colleges and universities in some states than others, and professional and state education associations are more active in some states than others. Finally, as already discussed, certification and recertification policies vary from state to state and may have an important effect on the amount of participation in some types of professional development programs.


Almost all teachers participate in some professional development activity in a given year. Although participation rates vary with teacher characteristics in some expected ways, the magnitude of the differences is relatively small. Participation rates do not depend just on teachers, but also on state, district, and school policies. With the SASS data, it is not possible to determine the extent to which participation reflects teachers' commitment to improving teaching practice, their responses to salary or other incentives, or their cooperation with district mandates.

While many believe that professional development should involve teachers on a consistent basis through interaction with their peers, the traditional formats for professional development that have been described in this section will not necessarily become obsolete. Time may not bring a decrease in these activities per se, but a shift in their structure, content, and duration. Participation in half-day workshops on prepackaged topics may decline, for example, while participation in workshops that are designed to further specific school goals and that are followed up with additional activities, discussion, and feedback might increase. It will be a data collection challenge to distinguish between the two types of workshops; to determine how many teachers participate in some of the newer types of staff development activities, such as collegial study groups or teacher collaboratives; and to identify what teachers do when they work together.


[9] This conclusion assumes similar retention rates over time and between sectors regardless of participation in an induction program and that teachers started their teaching career in the same sector as they are currently teaching.

[10] In addition to the subject-specific teacher organizations mentioned earlier, teacher professional associations such as the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the National Education Association (NEA), and their state and local affiliates provide a range of professional development programs. Other organizations that provide teacher professional development programs include the regional education laboratories funded by the U.S. Department of Education; private, non-profit organizations such as the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development; and private, for-profit consultants and companies.

[11] The regression results (table B1) suggest that the relationship between experience and participation may be nonlinear when teacher experience is divided into more categories. Nevertheless, beginning teachers participate in district- and school-sponsored activities at a lower rate than any other group.

[12] As discussed above, the professional organizations that offer teacher professional development opportunities include subject-specific organizations (e.g., NCSS, NCTE, NCTM, and the National Science Teachers Association [NSTA]); more general education professional organizations (e.g., National Association for the Education of Young Children [NAEYC] and ASCD); and teacher unions (e.g., AFT, NEA, and their state and local affiliates).

[13] The regression results (table B1) show that new teachers and teachers with 4-9 years experience are about equally likely to take college courses. The results also suggest that the relationships between age and experience and university extension or adult education course taking are nonlinear.

[14] The value individual schools and districts place on professional development is likely to affect teachers' voluntary participation in professional development activities, but SASS does not include such measures.

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