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What Works in PD? Even Experts, Feds Aren't Sure

With more pressure than ever on teachers to demonstrate their effectiveness, professional development has become big business. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education gives districts more than $1 billion annually for teacher-training programs (and that's not including Race to the Top and School Improvement Grants funds), according to Beth Fertig and Sarah Garland of The Hechinger Report. But the era of accountability in education has not trickled down to PD providers themselves. The authors contend that there's been little reliable research on the companies, programs, and universities that are being hired to help teachers improve their practice.

A 2007 U.S. Department of Education examination found that out of 1,300 studies about PD for teachers, only nine "matched high-quality research standards," write Fertig and Garland. Those nine studies determined that teachers should spend more than two days a year in training in order to increase their students' test scores. (Hmm ... still not exactly the most specific of findings ...) A more recent study by the federal government found that teacher coaching—even up to 60 hours of it—did not improve student test scores.

New York schools, which spent $100 million on private consultants who provide PD last year, leave it up to principals to determine what kind of training is best. That's no easy task, according to Fertig and Garland, considering they have more than 900 vendors to choose from.

Pamela Grossman, an education researcher at Stanford University who specializes in teacher training, sums up the quandary, saying: "We know less than we should about professional development, particularly given the money that is invested in it."

Does this ring true in your experience? How does your district go about choosing training programs? Or is that even a transparent process for teachers?

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