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Professional Development Falls Short; Department of Ed Offers Toolkit to Improve Efforts

The Department of Education has designed a toolkit to help school administrators overcome obstacles to accomplishing quality professional development. Included: Highlights of a recent report on the status of professional development in schools plus a link to a toolkit for school administrators.

High-quality, long-term professional development that is aligned with district and school goals, is focused on knowledge in a specific subject, and actively engages groups of teachers in learning new skills and knowledge can have a significant impact on the quality of teaching, according to a U.S. Department of Education report released in December.

According to the report, Does Professional Development Change Teaching Practice? Results of a Three-Year Study, most schools and districts do not know how to implement high-quality professional development activities and lack sufficient resources to start and sustain effective, long-term programs.

To better design and run professional development activities, every school district will receive a toolkit, developed by the department, along with federally funded North Central Regional Educational Laboratory and Mid-Continental Regional Education Laboratory. The user-friendly toolkit walks administrators through the processes of designing, implementing, evaluating, and improving professional development.


The following are among the findings released in the report:

  • Professional development that is focused on specific, higher-order teaching strategies -- for instance, teaching students analytical and problem-solving skills by using technology to analyze statistics -- increases teachers' use of those strategies in the classroom.
  • The average teacher does not experience a long-term, high-quality professional development program -- the type of program that has the potential for fostering significant and lasting change in teacher quality.
  • In the three years of the study (1996-1999), there was little change in overall teaching practice. This is not surprising, the authors concluded, given the generally usual low-quality and inconsistent nature of professional development.


The study concluded the following:

  • Time constraints are a major obstacle to quality programs. Most teachers already lack sufficient planning and preparation time for their classes, and they have trouble finding additional time to take part in sustained professional development. Schools and districts often must choose between high-quality programs for a few teachers and less-focused and sporadic development for more teachers. At least some teachers participate in high-quality development some of the time, the study found, and the quality of professional development varies within schools.
  • Reallocation of resources can help increase sources of funding, but without more resources, schools and districts ultimately must choose between quality and quantity.
  • Schools often lack the infrastructure and knowledge of what works to implement effective professional development. To translate needed reforms into practice, schools and districts need information and guidance on the characteristics and conditions that can help them provide high-quality professional development.


The report was commissioned by the department's Planning and Evaluation Service and prepared under contract by the American Institutes for Research. The focus was on activities funded by the Eisenhower Professional Development Program and other sources from 1996-99.

The Eisenhower Program is the federal government's largest investment in developing the knowledge and skills of classroom teachers. The program provides funds through state education agencies to school districts, and through state agencies for higher education to institutions of higher education and nonprofit organizations. The funds primarily support professional development in mathematics and science.

The report and the Professional Development: Learning from the Best toolkit are available online or by calling 1-877-4ED-PUBS.

This article was written from U.S. Department of Education press releases.

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