The authors, both executives with the National Staff Development Council, propose the creation of a national center for research about effective professional development. The proposed center would “help discover, evaluate, publicize, and disseminate new models for effective professional development,” they say.
With a focus on cultivating the best in professional development training, the center would greatly speed up the sharing of information that would lead to better training programsparticularly programs that directly affect student performance.
The authors suggest that the center could work through the states, much as most federal education programs do today. By providing information to states and local school districts (or even individual schools) over the internet, the center would provide momentum toward implementing new-found techniques. And yet, by being a national center, the program would adhere to broad, quantifiable national goals for improving student performance.
A national center, with funds available to make grants for innovative professional development ideas, also would help overcome states’ traditional reluctance to allocate funds for this task. Today, per-school spending on teacher training accounts for 0.5 to 1 percent of the annual budgetfar less than private-sector companies or the federal government. To take part in professional development activities today, most teachers must scramble to find grants or pay out of their own pocketscertainly not incentives to undertake such training, the authors note.
The National Staff Development Council could serve as a model for the national program through its current staff development leadership councils. These councils, in place in 10 states (California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, New York, and Texas), advise those states on how to use professional development funds effectively.
For districts seeking to create effective, high-quality professional development programs, the authors give the following guidelines:
1. Set clear and high standards for learning for all students, and focus on the changes in teachers’ knowledge and practice these standards require.
2. Hold superintendents and principals, as well as teachers, accountable for high-quality staff development that produces meaningful results for student achievement.
3. Invest in teacher learning, ideally allocating at least 10 percent of the budget to staff development.
4. Review school improvement plans to make sure they focus on student learning. Specify powerful methods for reaching these goals.
5. Involve all teachers in the continuous, intellectually rigorous study of the content they teach and the ways they teach it.
6. Embed opportunities for professional learning and collaborating with colleagues in the daily schedule of teachers. At least 25 percent of teachers’ time should be devoted to their own learning and sharing.
7. Provide teachers with classroom-assessment and action-research skills that will allow them to determine if student learning is improving.
8. Recognize the importance of skillful leaders in the schools and at the district level who have a deep understanding of instruction, curriculum, assessment, and the organizational factors that affect student learning.