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Report: Big investment, little data on professional development

The nation spends about $9 billion annually on teacher professional development, however most programs do not provide nor do states ask for data demonstrating that such investments actually improve student learning, according to a recent National Governors Association Center for Best Practices issue brief.

At a time when educators and administrators are facing enormous pressures to boost student achievement, it is critical that training resources provided by state leaders are in fact effective in improving student achievement. Recent opportunities through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to fund professional development programs have lent some help to states, according to the issue brief. However, making the right investments that can provide the most impact on student achievement appears to be a challenge.

“Deficits exist with regard to the content and delivery of professional development, and continuing large investments in this system may not be justified unless improvements are made based on the limited research that is available,” according to State Policies to Improve Teacher Professional Development.

The brief notes that most professional development does not collect or offer data that could provide information on the impact programs have on student achievement. Thus, it outlines approaches states can take to improve the quality of teacher professional development by setting standards, implementing accountability strategies and identifying quality programs that encourage the implementation of effective professional development. Generally, the report outlines four core approaches to improving professional development systems:

o Gather and use student achievement data to assess the effectiveness of professional development;
o Use teacher evaluations and student learning data to create individualized professional development plans for teachers;
o Establish research-based state standards to create a vision for high-quality professional development; and
o Create an incentive-driven professional development initiative for teachers to acquire advanced skills.

Some states have made traction in regards to evaluating and monitoring professional development programs, according to the brief. For instance, Iowa requires the school districts to include in their professional development plans an evaluation piece that examines the impact programs have on student learning. In New Jersey, state standards mention the use of research-based professional development with a demonstrated ability to improve student learning.

In order for other states to follow such leads, the NGA Center notes that governors, state education leaders, higher education institutions, teachers associations and professional development providers must collaborate to make systemic changes. Perhaps, the nation’s current fiscal crisis may be the needed impetus to encourage a focus on wise investments in professional development, according to the brief.

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