By Darling-Hammond, Linda; Wei, Ruth Chung et al. | Journal of Staff Development, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview
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Darling-Hammond, Linda, Wei, Ruth Chung, Andree, Alethea, Richardson, Nikole, Orphanos, Stelios, Journal of Staff Development


Ensuring student success requires a new kind of teaching, conducted by teachers who understand learning and pedagogy, who can respond to the needs of their students and the demands of their disciplines, and who can develop strong connections between students' experiences and the goals of the curriculum. By examining information about the nature of professional development currently available to teachers across the United States and in a variety of contexts, education leaders and policy makers can begin both to evaluate the needs of the systems in which teachers learn and do their work and to consider how teachers' learning can be further supported.

NSDC has sponsored this initial report to synthesize what we know as a baseline to inform decisions and improvements in professional learning. We hope that each report in the series will answer key questions about professional learning that will contribute to improved outcomes in teaching and learning in the United States.

What we know

The full report highlights key findings and also provides extensive detail and citations from die research project. Here, several key findings are highlighted with selected detail and citations.


Sustained and intensive professional development for teachers Is related to student achievement gains.

An analysis of well-designed experimental studies found that a set of programs diat offered substantial contact hours of professional develop- ment (ranging from 30 to 100 hours in total) spread over six to 12 mondis showed a positive and significant effect on student achievement gains. According to die research, intensive professional development that offered an average of 49 hours in a year boosted student achievement by approximately 21%. Other efforts diat involved a limited amount of professional development (ranging from five to 14 hours in total) showed no statistically significant effect on student learning (Yoon, Duncan, Lee, Scarloss, & Shapley, 2007).

While diese findings are striking, they come from a limited pool of rigorous quantitative studies. For example, the studies described above came from a meta-analysis of 1,300 research studies and evaluation reports, from which researchers identified just nine experimental or quasi-experimental studies using control groups with preand post-test designs diat could evaluate impacts of professional development on student achievement (Yoon et al., 2007). Odier reviews of research on professional development in literacy (Garet et al., 2008) and mathematics (National Mathematics Advisory Panel, 2008) also found few studies designed to support causal inferences.

Nonetheless, the methodologically strong studies that we do have suggest that well-designed professional development can influence teacher practice and student performance. The research base also provides a forceful indictment of the occasional, one-shot workshops that most school systems tend to provide, and which generations of teachers have derided (Stein, Smith, & Silver, 1999). More importantly, this research suggests some general guidelines for the design of effective professional development programs.

Collaborative approaches professional learning can promote school change that extends beyond individual classrooms.

When all teachers in a school learn together, all students in the school benefit. Research shows that when schools are strategic in creating time and productive working relationships within academic departments or grade levels, across them, or among teachers schoolwide, the benefits can include greater consistency in instruction, more willingness to share practices and try new ways of teaching, and more success in solving problems of practice (Hord, 1997; Joyce & Calhoun, 1996; Louis, Marks, & Kruse, 1996; McLaughlin &Talbert, 2001; Newman & Wehlage, 1997; Perez et al.

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