Limited Role of Professional Development

Research organizations and teachers unions often recommend that more money and time be set aside for teachers’ professional development activities.[218] As a matter of state law, Michigan requires new teachers to complete 15 days of professional development over their first three years.[219] In addition, new teachers, like experienced teachers, must complete five days of professional learning annually.[*]

Most research on professional development simply reports the types of training that teachers have said are helpful. Such research tends to analyze teachers’ self-reported survey responses about various professional development activities.[220] Although these studies may provide some guidance about professional development design, they are less compelling because they do not provide empirical evidence of student achievement gains. Regarding professional development, the conclusions of Susanna Loeb and Michelle Reininger suggest the need for caution: "Some high-quality professional development programs have been shown to improve teacher effectiveness; however, we do not know whether investment in these programs is more beneficial than equal investment in other school resources, nor what aspects of these programs are particularly beneficial in a given context."[221]

We are unaware of any high-quality studies using value-added calculations that link participation in any professional development programs to greater effectiveness in the classroom in American schools. It seems reasonable to think that teachers could benefit from learning how to use new instructional technology or strategies for classroom management, but it is equally reasonable to question whether so much time and money should be invested in professional development generally. Moreover, the quality of most professional development is suspect. As the University of Michigan’s Heather Hill recently wrote: "Although short workshops might be effective in providing piecemeal instructional activities or very general ideas, many scholars believe that given the complexity of teachers’ work, short workshops have little effect on teaching or learning."[222]

Until research can demonstrate that teachers who participate in certain professional development definitively raise student achievement, the state should consider paring down current professional development requirements and monies in favor of programs with a better record of success.

[*] The Michigan Department of Education states: “There are four sections in the Michigan School Code that address professional learning. Sections 1526 and 1527 specify requirements for the professional learning of teachers. Section 1246 specifies continuing education requirements for school administrators. Section 101(11) enables schools to schedule up to 38 hours of professional learning and count it as part of the required 1,098 hours of instructional time.” “Questions and Answers About Professional Learning, New Teacher Induction and Mentoring, and Continuing Education Requirements for School Administrators” (Michigan Department of Education, 2006), 100964_7.doc (accessed May 21, 2008).