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What Kinds of Professional Development Are Teachers Doing?

The most common type of professional development provided to U.S. public school teachers in the 2011-2012 school year focused on boosting their content area knowledge, according to a new report from the Institute of Education Sciences.

Using data from the 2011-2012 Schools and Staffing Survey, the report provides a snapshot of the kinds of PD public and charter school teachers most often participate in, with what level of support, and for how long. For an in-depth look at the ways professional development is currently changing to meet the needs of individual teachers, check out Education Week's special report "Smart Strategies for Teacher PD."

Kinds of Professional Development

The report from the Institute of Education Sciences shows that 85 percent of surveyed teachers participated in PD that was specifically related to the content areas they teach. The next most common type of PD, involving 67 percent of teachers, focused on the use of computers for instruction. The graph below shows how other types of PD—including training in reading instruction, classroom management, and teaching students with disabilities—stack up.

Graph1.jpgThe majority of teachers spent eight or fewer hours on each type of professional development in which they took part, with the exception of content area PD. Fifty-three percent of teachers spent between nine and 32 hours sharpening their skills in their particular content areas, while 26 percent of teachers spent 33 hours or more on this type of PD. The chart below shows the number of hours teachers spent participating in each type of professional development.

Graph2.jpgCollaboration as Professional Development

About 80 percent of the teachers surveyed said that they participated in regularly scheduled collaboration with fellow teachers in the 2011-2012 school year. The proportions differed by grade level. A smaller share of high school teachers collaborated with their peers (76 percent) than did elementary school teachers (85 percent) and middle school teachers (83 percent). Teachers in urban schools collaborated with their peers at a higher rate (84 percent) than did teachers in suburban, town, and rural schools (81 percent, 80 percent, and 77 percent, respectively).

The report also showed that 67 percent of teachers observed, or were observed by, other teachers. New teachers with three or fewer years of experience (77 percent) were more apt to do classroom observations or be observed by other teachers, compared with teachers with 20 or more years of experience (62 percent). Forty-five percent of teachers conducted research, either independently or collaboratively, on a topic related to teaching. Fewer teachers in rural schools (42 percent) did research, compared with their counterparts in urban schools (46 percent) and suburban schools (48 percent).

Graph3.jpgA recent Education Week survey of teachers shows they view common planning time with their colleagues as one of the most effective ways of improving their classroom instruction. 

Support for Professional Development

Most teachers, 79 percent, said the PD in which they participated in the 2011-2012 school year was scheduled during school hours, when students had the day off. The least common types of professional development support were travel reimbursement (21 percent) and college tuition reimbursement (9 percent). See the chart here:

Graph4.jpgThe Institute of Education Sciences report provides just a snapshot of the types of professional development teachers are doing. The authors don't evaluate the effectiveness of PD. If you'd like to hear what teachers consider good and bad PD—watching and analyzing a video of themselves teaching is considered worthwhile, for instance; a lesson on how to use the new soap dispensers in the bathroom, not so much—check out this Education Week video.

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