Teachers need more opportunities for high-quality professional development to improve learning outcomes, raise test scores and close the achievement gap, said a group of researchers during a press conference hosted by the National Staff Development Council Wednesday.
Many teachers receive professional development that is episodic and disconnected from real problems and practice, said Linda Darling-Hammond, Charles E. Ducommon Professor of Teaching and Teacher Education at Stanford University.
“But research tells us that teachers need to learn the way other professionals do: continually, collaboratively and on the job,” said Darling-Hammond, who was considered a possible U.S. secretary of state and serves on President Barack Obama’s transition team.
In her new report, Darling-Hammond highlights inadequacies in professional development facing the nation’s teachers and offers recommendations that she says may advance student-learning outcomes.
In 2003, nearly 60 percent of teachers said they had received no more than 16 hours of professional development opportunities, according to the Schools and Staffing Survey, a survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics; less than 25 percent reported that they had at least 33 hours of professional development. Darling-Hammond’s report recommends teachers receive about 50 hours of training annually.
Student achievement increased 21 percent when teachers received at least that many hours in professional development, Darling-Hammond found.
Moreover, U.S. teachers, unlike their Asian and Indian counterparts, bear much of the cost of their professional development and receive little professional development in their specific areas of instruction. American teachers spend more time teaching and significantly less time planning, developing high-quality curriculum and working with other teachers in assessing the efficacy of existing teaching strategies, the report shows.
“Improving teacher quality is among our top priorities along with raising standards,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said during the hour-long conference. “We need to get the best possible people into the classroom, and we need to support them while they learn and grow.”
Furthermore, said Duncan, “We are facing a national crisis in our education system as well. We are stagnating while the rest of the world is moving forward. We have to get Americans on track for being number one in international education.”
The educational gains made by other nations in the international community can be largely attributed to their professional development investment, Darling-Hammond said.
Netherlands, Singapore and Sweden support at least 100 hours of professional development per year, according to the report.
Darling-Hammond recommends restructuring the educational policies of American schools in a way that allows for more planning, observing and development time.
The capacity of teachers to meet much higher standards, to teach more ambitious curriculum and meet the needs of a growing number of immigrants is embedded in continued learning, she added.
“The idea that teachers go off and get training and that is it for the rest of their career is something we know doesn’t work,” Darling-Hammond said.
Although the initial findings of her report are consistent, Hammond said they are based on a limited pool of studies that discusses specific areas. The report will be part of a multi-year effort that will track the progress of states over time and identify model policies and practices.
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