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Report: Effective Teacher Professional Development Crucial to Common Core

The success of the largest education reform effort of the last decade — Common Core State Standards — is contingent upon effective teacher professional development, according to a new report issued today by the National School Boards Association.

But the report, "Teaching the Teachers: Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability," by the NSBA's Center for Public Education, argued that Common Core standards will require new teaching methods for effective implementation; further, the support for training teachers in those new methods and ensuring those methods are put into practice effectively is simply not there. However, fixing the problem is still within the realm of possibility, even with recessionary budgetary constraints.

"While professional development might not be the most controversial topic in education, its importance must not be minimized," said Jim Hull, NSBA senior policy analyst, who spoke with reporters at a press briefing today. He said the new standards will require teaching techniques that are substantially different from practices that are in place today, and it will take time not just to teach those techniques but to give teachers a chance to implement them effectively.

In particular, the report identified several barriers to effective teacher professional development. It found that workshop-based professional development is ineffective, yet more than "90 percent of teachers participate in workshop-style training sessions during a school year."

Also, for teachers, the "steepest learning curve" has to do with implementing new teaching technique, not learning about them. Hull argued that, just as a football player can easily learn a new play but will require time and practice to get it right on a consistent basis, teachers might be able to learn a new teaching technique quickly but will need time to get it right.

"In fact," the report said, "studies have shown that teacher mastery of a new skill takes, on average, 20 separate instances of practice and that number may increase if the skill is exceptionally complex."

In order to help fix the problem, the report suggested:

  • Professional development needs to be ongoing and carried out over time, rather than presented in one-day workshops;
  • Professional development should be delivered "in the context of the teacher's subject area"; and
  • Peer coaches and mentors "are found to be highly effective in helping teachers implement a new skill" and so should be employed when possible.

The barriers to delivering more effective professional development are not insurmountable, and the payoff will be significant. An investment in teacher professional development will have a "substantial" impact on student learning, Hull said.

Funding for professional development though can be a problem, particularly with ongoing budget cuts across the nation. However, the report indicated that "most districts don't actually know what they're spending on professional development" owing to "vague" accounting codes and that figuring out exactly how many dollars are being spent on professional development could help alleviate some of the burden. Districts "may [also] be able to restructure spending for effective professional development without spending significantly more."

The report made no mention of the role technology can play in fostering effective professional deveopment or helping to scale existing PD resources, and Hull said the research just isn't there yet to determine conclusively how valuable technology can be. But he added that technologies that make tools available to teachers on an ongoing basis do present an opportunity.

Additional details and the complete report can be found on centerforpubliceducation.org.

About the Author

David Nagel is the executive producer for 1105 Media's online K-12 and higher education publications and electronic newsletters. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com. He can now be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/THEJournalDave (K-12) or http://twitter.com/CampusTechDave (higher education). You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=10390192.

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