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Darling-Hammond Outlines Professional-Development Report

Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond is quickly becoming a polarizing figure for Democrats and the source of much debate, with news articles on her ranging from Tom Toch's take on assessment over at the Quick and the Ed to this New Republic piece that questions her credentials as a school reformer.

My colleague Alyson Klein and I got to chat with Darling-Hammond briefly today after her keynote speech at the National Staff Development Council conference. As Alyson notes, Darling-Hammond couldn't give many specifics about the transition process. Her speech, though, highlighted a number of the ideas that are more likely than not to make their way into various Obama administration policy proposals.

Many of them are drawn from case studies of OECD countries and from a report Darling-Hammond is working on. (Keep reading below for more on that.) In sum, she said, professional development is more effective when it's sustained, comprehensive, and embedded in the school day; when it incorporates peer coaching, observation, modeling, and feedback; and when it is explicitly tied to higher-order content and skills.

Good professional development, Darling-Hammond said, "is not a mystery. What is a mystery is how we will get policy to support this kind of [teacher] learning routinely... so that it can become the norm, not the exception."

To her point, changing around school schedules and teacher working hours is not an easy task. It's not hard to imagine why districts favor "spray-and-pray" professional-development workshops even if they know they aren't particularly effective, given that they are easier and probably cheaper to do than reorganizing school schedules, extending the school day or hiring additional staff to free up the common time for this type of PD.

At the federal level, NSCD has been pushing for a new federal definition of professional development in the No Child Left Behind Act that would require federal dollars to support on-site professional development for teachers and better mentoring. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., introduced S. 1979, a bill that incorporates the NSCD definition. I asked Darling-Hammond about this bill, and while she didn't endorse it, she did say its ideas were in line with the team's conversations.

Much of Darling-Hammond's speech was keyed to a report she's spearheading with NSCD analyzing the research on professional development. The report, the first part of which will be released early next year, contains data from a survey of 40,000 educators conducted as part of the Education Department's Schools and Staffing Survey; data from a survey of 50,000 educators conducted by the NSCD; and a review (thought not a formal meta-analysis) of the most methodologically sound research studies on professional development.

The report will outline not just the relationship of PD to teachers' attitudes and behaviors, but whether the PD practices studied improved student achievement, Darling-Hammond said.

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