Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Examining the Impact of Collaborative Professional Development on Teacher Practice

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Examining the Impact of Collaborative Professional Development on Teacher Practice

Article excerpt

A Call to Action

Calls for widespread educational reform in the United States are ubiquitous. The "achievement gap" between poor students of color and their more affluent, White, non-Hispanic counterparts has become part of the national consciousness. However, in a presidential address to the American Educational Research Association, Ladson-Billings (2006) argued that the achievement gap is far more complex than annual discrepancies in test scores. She asserted that people of color and in poverty have been historically underserved by the U.S. educational system owing to institutionalized systems of oppression and discrimination, such as slavery and Jim Crow laws. Because of this historical legacy, the persistent achievement gap has compounded over time into what Ladson-Billings called an "education debt," much as a recurring deficit accumulates into a national debt. Arguing that this educational debt has historical, economic, sociopolitical, and moral dimensions, she asserted the U.S. must address the debt "because it has implications for the kinds of lives we can live and the kind of education this society can expect for most of its children" (p. 9). Thus, answering the calls for educational reform is not only a practical imperative, but also a moral one.

Answering the Call

At the core of many current educational reforms is the desire to close the achievement gap and address the education "debt." Clearly, real and substantial progress in educational equity also requires sweeping social reforms to alleviate the burden of poverty and reduce inequities in such areas as housing, social services, medical care, dental care, mental health services, and after-school and summer enrichment (Berliner, 2006; Neuman, 2009; Rothstein, 2004). But there is still much that can be done through school improvement. Attempts at large-scale school reform in the U.S. date back to the 1950s and incorporate a variety of approaches. All of these embraced the goal of improving teaching practice and student learning through the professional development of teachers. Teachers have the most direct impact on students because of their regular and sustained contact with them; thus, improving instructional practice though professional development must be central to any model of school reform (Borko, 2004; Fullan, 2007).

Developments in the understanding of teacher knowledge and learning (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999; Munby, Russell, & Martin, 2001) have given rise to the professional development strategy of professional learning communities (PLCs). While the concept of PLCs can be traced back decades to organizational theory and research pointing to the centrality of learning in organizational productivity and adaptivity (Senge, 1990; Smylie, 1996; Wenger, 1998), the application of PLCs continues to spread across the country. PLCs help teachers guide their own professional growth by collaboratively resolving the dilemmas they face in their classrooms and improving their instructional practice through site-based inquiry (DuFour, 2004; Fullan, 2001; Hord & Sommers, 2008).

Ready Schools Miami

Ready Schools Miami (RSM) was a school reform initiative that centered on developing such conditions for teacher learning. RSM was the result of the sustained effort of multiple organizations, including a large urban school district, a university, educational foundations, non-profit organizations, and a children's services council, aimed at creating sustainable and widespread improvement in student learning and healthy child development. The approach was comprehensive, moving beyond a narrow focus on school reform to begin to address factors related to the achievement gap and education debt. The objectives included improving the quality of prekindergarten learning centers as well as aligning curriculum and instruction within and across grades from early learning centers through elementary school to help students start formal schooling with the skills to succeed. …

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