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Professional Development Schools: Are They Working For Everyone?

The idea of offering continuing professional development to teachers through networks with local college departments of education was not always widely accepted.

It wasn't until the mid-1980s with the publication of Tomorrow's Teachers by The Holmes Group, that the concept of professional development schools began to gain mainstream recognition as the preferred method of on-going professional development.

Since that time, much praise has been extended to professional development schools. Supporters credit the schools for providing a dynamic exchange between teachers and student teachers and an opportunity for teachers to discuss classroom experiences with peers. But recently, professional development schools have come under closer scrutiny and criticism.

Despite the potential benefits they offer teachers, some educators see professional development schools as inflexible and potentially removed from teacher input. "If people go in with an idea in mind of what the structure should look like and impose it on the k-12 schools, then its unlikely to serve the needs of either the school or the teacher and will lack good mechanisms for feedback," says Mary Diez, chairwoman of the education department at Alverno College in Milwaukee. Instead she encourages professional development schools to work jointly with educators to develop programs that promote continued learning.

Supporters of professional development schools argue that teacher involvement is the hallmark of these schools. According to Frank Murray, dean of the education college of the University of Delaware, "Professional development schools are a collaborative effort invented by the local school and the university. There is nothing prescribed about them." Teachers must take an active role in setting program guidelines of the professional development schools; otherwise the programs are ineffective.

In addition to charges of inflexibility, professional development schools have come under attack for failing to demonstrate how their programs have led to increased student achievement. Professional development programs that do not provide follow-up mechanisms have no accountability. Educators are left wondering which programs work and why.

Efforts are currently under way at the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) to address these concerns. "There are many places that are calling themselves professional development schools, but they don't really meet the definition of a professional development school," says Marsha Levine, director of the professional development school standards project for NCATE. For the past two years, NCATE has been working on draft standards for professional development schools. According to Ms. Levine, "The project is designed to develop standards working with individuals in the field to identify the characteristics that are the most important clinical aspects of professional development schools." NCATE plans to release the standards for comment in October of 1997.

Instead of working with professional development schools, some school districts have chosen to rely on alternative community networks to build their professional development programs. Working with volunteers, community-based organizations, and private institutions, public schools throughout the country are creating professional development programs with increased student performance as the main goal. In Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Education Fund provides resources to local public schools for professional development programs and helps educators partner with community-based organizations. The results of these efforts have led to increased teacher collaboration and classroom problem solving skills.

While educators continue to debate the ideal for continuing teacher education, public schools, strapped by limited financial resources, will experiment with various programs to find the right combination of resources for their professional development efforts.

Related Resources

Additional Sources of Information on Professional Development:

The Holmes Group

501 Erickson Hall
East Lansing, MI 48834-1304
(517) 353-3874 FAX (517) 353-6393

National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education

2010 Massachusetts Avenue, N. W., Suite 500
Washington, DC20036-1023
(202) 466-7496

Philadelphia Education Fund

7 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 665-1400

Clinical Schools Clearinghouse

One Dupont Circle, Suite 610
Washington DC, 20036-1186
(202) 293-2450 FAX: (202) 457-8095

Professional Development Schools Network

National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching
Box 110, Teachers College,
Columbia University
New York, NY10027
(212) 678-3497

Related Sites

Upcoming Conferences featuring Professional Development Issues:

Article by Cristal Metta-Gallagher
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World