Improving Teacher Quality through Professional Development

Article excerpt

Introduction

In order to achieve America's educational goals, it is imperative that excellent teachers be recruited, prepared, and supported in every school (National Research Council, 1999; Pikulski, 2000). Professional development, as defined by Hassel (1999), is the process of improving staff skills and competencies needed to produce outstanding educational results for students. Teachers are becoming recognized as the centerpiece of educational change; active and powerful change agents who have the power to make a difference, both individually and collectively (Castellano and Datnow, 2000; Hurst, 1999). Reform efforts must address core processes of teaching and learning if they are to markedly change what happens in schools. Teachers must explore implementation of research insights in their own classrooms regarding needs, interest, instructional history, and proficiency of individual students. Teacher beliefs about an innovation, its consequences, concerns, and contextual variables associated with it, are important in determining teacher behavior (Burke et al., 1996; Castellano and Datnow, 2000; Kennedy and Kennedy, 1996; Laine and Otto, 2000; Ros and van den Berg, 1999).

Attitude, in conjunction with action, are critical change factors (C. Kennedy and J. Kennedy, 1996). Ultimately, the individual teacher determines the extent to which any innovation occurs. With that in mind, the best teachers never assume they have arrived, but constantly strive to refine their practice.

Current Status of Professional Development

Studies that focus on teacher awareness have found many remain seriously unprepared to address individual differences in many academic skills (Alexander and Lyon, 1996; Darling-Hammond, 1997; Laine and Otto, 2000; National Research Council, 1998). They are often unable to put together superior instructional programs due to deficiencies in their own knowledge, industry, and motivation (Durkin, 1987). This may be attributed to current teacher preparation practices for both pre-service and in-service teachers (Alexander and Lyon, 1996; Lyon, 1998).

Professional development for teachers, administrators, and faculty play an essential role in school reform efforts. Far more time must be made available for staff learning and planning if reform efforts are to succeed (Laine and Otto, 2000; Sparks, 1994). A study of more than 1,000 districts found every additional dollar spent on developing teachers netted improvements in student achievement greater than any other school resource (National Research Council, 1999).

However, districts are currently spending less than half of one percent of their resources on staff development. Many of those school districts are not directing their professional development dollars in a coherent way toward sustained, practical learning opportunities for teachers (Darling-Hammond, 1997; Laine and Otto, 2000). These observations are confirmed by surveys indicating America's teachers are usually provided too little professional preparation. Teachers may not be in the position to make the best judgments about what a particular child needs nor do they have the experience to keep the student on track (Report of the Carnegie Corporation, 1996).

Though an abundance of material exists concerning what constitutes good professional development for teachers, existing patterns fall short of what is needed (Laine and Otto, 2000; Sparks, 1994). Staff development efforts have been found ineffective due to short duration, low intellectual level, poor focus, and little substantive research-based content. Plans are developed and implemented from the top-down, are outdated, lack follow-up, neglect teacher concerns and neglect connections to challenges teachers face (Bullough, Burbank, Gess-Newsome, Kauchak, and Kennedy, 1998; National Research Council, 1998; Sullivan, 1999). They are found to be largely unrelated to school mission and too often inconsistent with changes in curriculum, assessment, and proven best practices (Laine and Otto, 2000). …