organizations and teachers unions often recommend that more money and time be
set aside for teachers’ professional development activities. As a matter of state law, Michigan requires new teachers to complete 15 days of professional development over their first three years.
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. 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."
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."
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),
https://michigan.gov/documents/Q&A_Revised_Sept_2004_A_ 100964_7.doc (accessed May 21, 2008).