What Research Tells Us

By Blank, Rolf K. | The Learning Professional, February 2013 | Go to article overview

What Research Tells Us


Blank, Rolf K., The Learning Professional


COMMON CHARACTERISTICS OF PROFESSIONAL LEARNING THAT LEADS TO STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT

Today's education policy places a high priority on improving teacher quality and teaching effectiveness in U.S. schools (Obama, 2009). Standards-based professional learning requires teachers to have deep subject knowledge and the most effective pedagogy for teaching the subject. States and school districts are charged with establishing teacher professional development programs, some with federal funding support, designed to address the significant needs for improved teacher preparation. The results of a national study of teacher professional development over a two-year period (Darling-Hammond, Wei, Andree, Richardson, & Orphanos, 2009) show that, while teachers are experiencing more professional learning than in the past, we don't have strong data regarding its effectiveness to improve teaching and learning. What follows is a summary of recent research that measures effects of professional learning on student achievement and identifies characteristics of professional learning that produces positive results for teachers and students

EVIDENCE OF WHAT WORKS

A key issue for public school decision makers is being able to make policy and program decisions based on evidence of what works. Learning Forward's Standards for Professional Learning call on decision makers to make better use of research findings and outcomes measures (Learning Forward, 2011). Federal law requires programs to be justified and validated based on research evidence, including the federal support for school improvement and teacher development under Title I and Title II of NCLB (Shavelson & Towne, 2002). Regulations for federal grant programs cite findings that define the characteristics of effective programs of teacher professional development (see Garet, Porter, Desimone, Birman, & Yoon, 2001; Hiebert, 1999; Loucks-Horsley, Hewson, Love, & Stiles, 1998; National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 1996; Desimone, Porter, Garet, Yoon, & Birman, 2002; Guskey, 2003; Showers, Joyce, & Bennett, 1987; Kennedy, 1998).

However, two problems persist in translating research evidence into policy and practice. First, state policies governing teacher professional learning provide only broad guidance, with the primary state role in defining requirements for teacher relicensure credits (Blank, de las Alas, & Smith, 2008). In U.S. education systems, decisions about the definition, design, and delivery of teacher professional learning have been leftto district or school leaders, or often to individual teachers (Corcoran, 2007).

Second, the field lacks well-designed, scientific studies of the relationship between teacher professional learning and the degree of improvement in subsequent student learning. The call for evidence-based programs under NCLB produced renewed efforts to conduct experimental design studies of education initiatives, and more recent reports have begun to identify research findings focused on effects of professional learning (for example, Yoon, Duncan, Lee, Scarloss, & Shapley, 2007; Clements & Samara, 2011; Scher & O'Reilly, 2007; Harris & Sass, 2007).

META-ANALYSIS DESIGN

In 2007, the Council of Chief State School Officers undertook a meta-analysis study of the effects of teacher professional learning on raising student achievement (Blank & de las Alas, 2009). The goal of the two-year project, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, was to identify research that showed clear evidence of program effects and then to document what common elements of the professional development's organization and delivery could be communicated to education leaders.

The meta-analysis consisted of four steps:

1. Research staffscanned the titles and topics of several thousand studies published in more than 30 U.S. education journals and research compendiums since 1990, including Review of Educational Research, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Teachers College Record, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, and ERS Spectrum. …

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