Factors Associated with Teachers' Attitudes about Professional Development

Article excerpt

Ongoing educational reform initiatives have ushered in significant changes in teacher-certification regulations. Many states no longer offer permanent certification, but instead require teachers to participate in career-long professional development (PD). In New York State, for example, teachers must complete 175 hours of PD every five years for their teaching certificates to remain valid. Requirements as such reflect the belief that teachers, as with professionals in other disciplines, should continue to enhance their skills and stay current with developments in the field (Guskey, 2000, 2002; Killion & Hirsh, 2001; Little, 1993).

Accordingly, increasing attention is being paid to the effectiveness of PD initiatives, raising questions concerning how best to provide PD services for teachers--e.g., how such services should be designed, what topics they should cover, and which teachers should be served (Birman et al., 2000; Garet et al., 2001; Guskey, 2000, 2002; Killion & Hirsh, 2001; Little, 1993; Newmann, King, & Youngs, 2000; Richardson, 1994; Sparks & Richardson, 1997). Researchers have focused on investigating the conditions under which PD initiatives are most effective in enhancing teacher learning and improving classroom practice. For example, Garet and colleagues administered a survey to a nationwide sample of 1027 math and science teachers (Garet et al., 2001). The results indicated that PD was rated as most effective when it (a) was sustained and intensive rather than short-term, (b) was focused on academic subject matter with links to standards of learning, (c) provided teachers opportunities for active learning, (d) afforded opportunities for teachers to engage in leadership roles, (e) involved the collective participation of groups of teachers from the same school, and (f) was meaningfully integrated into the daily life of the school.

Similar findings were reported in a two-year study in which the researchers observed PD activities and interviewed teachers at a nationwide sample of nine elementary schools serving low-income students (Newmann, King, & Youngs, 2000). Results indicated that PD was most effective when it "addressed five aspects of school capacity: teachers' knowledge, skills, and dispositions; professional community; program coherence; technical resources; and principal leadership" (p. 259).

These studies indicate that PD initiatives varied in effectiveness depending on their design features. But the success of these initiatives likely depends as well on the characteristics of the teachers who take part in them (Newmann, et al., 2000; Smylie, 1988; Sparks, 1988). Although research on the correspondence of teachers' beliefs and behavior has produced mixed results (Fang, 1996), an analysis combining the design features of PD initiatives and teachers' attitudes about these initiatives probably accounts for more of the variance in the effectiveness of PD than either of these sets of factors alone.

At the same time, the "teachers' knowledge, skills, and dispositions" discussed by Newmann et al. (2000, p. 259) remain largely unspecified. In particular, research is lacking concerning how teachers' attitudes about PD are associated with a variety of demographic characteristics. At least five characteristics have been linked to teachers' beliefs and attitudes on other topics (Calderhead, 1996; Fang, 1996; Hollingsworth, 1989; Nespor, 1987; Richardson, 1994, 1996; Richardson & Placier, 2002) or shown to influence beliefs and attitudes held by individuals other than teachers (e.g., Barron-Cohen, 2003; McGillicuddy-De Lisi & De Lisi, 2001). These characteristics include age, years of teaching experience, gender, grade level (elementary versus secondary), and level of educational attainment. But it remains unclear how these characteristics are associated with teachers' attitudes about PD. In what follows we report the results of a study that addresses these issues. …