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How State Policy Can Drive Quality PD

The third and final phase of a study exploring the state of professional learning in the U.S. was released at Learning Forward's 2010 Annual Conference in December. Conducted for Learning Forward by researchers at Stanford University's Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, Teacher Professional Development in the United States: Case Studies of State Policies and Strategies explores professional development policies and strategies in four states: Colorado, Missouri, New Jersey, and Vermont.

The study concludes that these states, which take an active role in professional development, have improved both professional development and student achievement.

The study identifies four key factors that determine the impact of state policy on professional development:


  1. The states' leadership for professional development, characterized by strong focus on professional development and engaging stakeholders in decisions about professional development;

  2. Investment in infrastructure for professional development, such as regional centers, initiatives for professional development, and strong partnerships;

  3. Resources designated for professional development through direct, indirect, and leveraging federal funding;

  4. Leveraging intermediaries and outside organizations such as professional associations and independent providers.

The four states used a number of strategies to affect professional development. They implemented multiple accountability systems. They had systems to monitor participation in and quality of professional development. They required mentoring and induction programs that provided intensive professional development to novice teachers and their mentors. They emphasized the importance of collaboration among educators through implementation of professional learning community models. They engaged professional organizations in advancing professional development and used partnerships with intermediary organizations to support instructional improvement. Finally, each of the states used much-needed federal resources available under No Child Left Behind, particularly Title I and II funds, to support professional development.

The study's authors identify several state policy implications emerging from the study. They recommend that states:


  • Develop a common and clearly articulated vision for professional development that permeates policy and practice;

  • Implement effective monitoring of professional development quality;

  • Establish mentoring and induction requirements that link to and create a foundation for ongoing professional learning;

  • Build an infrastructure of organizations to support professional development; and

  • Ensure stability of resources for professional development.

Leaving professional development solely to the purview of school districts without strong state-level parameters, standards, overlapping systems of accountability, monitoring, and resources, leaves to chance one of the most substantive pathways to strengthen educator practice and increase student achievement.

Joellen Killion
Deputy Executive Director, Learning Forward

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The opinions expressed in Learning Forward's PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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