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Teaching the Teachers: Reviewing Professional Development Research


It's probably a safe bet to say that every district in the nation has offered its teachers some form of professional development at one time or another. Yet there is little research to show whether such programs work or what might make them successful.

In an effort to provide some answers on that score for its members, the Council of Chief State School Officers recently conducted its own review of the research on professional development programs in science and mathematics. Borrowing a method used by researchers at the American Institutes of Research, CCSSO researchers reviewed 400-plus reports on the topic, eventually settling on 16 studies that had been shown, though fairly rigorous scientific methods, to yield positive results.

So what did the successful programs have in common? For one, they tended to focus on specific subject-matter content, as well as on how to teach it. They included multiple activities to reinforce teachers' learning long after the professional development sessions ended, such as employing mentors and coaches. And 14 of the programs continued for six months or more.

Rolf K. Blank, who led the project, said a second aim of the review was to see if this type of metaanalysis could yield useful information for policymakers and practitioners. You can judge for yourself. The Washington-based group has posted the study on its Web site.


Interesting information. I had to take a look in the final report (cross-state_study_rpt_final.pdf), thinking: haven't we heard this story before?! I actually went directly to the references and noticed that none of the evaluation studies had been published in a peer-reviewed journal. Why? Of what kind of reason do we not consider these type of studies relevant for scientific review? Then I looked at the first reference, Banilower, E. R. et. al. Banilower and many of the other references cited in the report (p. 3) are summarized as: "...while a decade of research studies were finding strong evidence of what works, the data from large-scale national studies showed that most professional development
provided to teachers did not meet these quality characteristics". This is the "old" story again. We know, but we resist to put in the effort to apply existing knowledge to the problems at hand. I wonder if more frequent scientific publishing would force us to understand that our problems are seldom unique? Eventually starting collaborations with those that have (proven) knowledge and experience. Or is the academic world, with all its knowledge, silent to requests? Uninterested of real problems?

Mr Jaworowski
We appreciate your comments, but you are commenting on a different study and final report --"the Cross-state study" was a quite different study than the Meta-analysis study reviewed by Debbie Viadero. Yes that earlier study review of state-funded programs can be found in a related web page at CCSSO. However,
The meta-analysis study, that we just completed, was an effort to document and analyze the scientific studies that have been conducted, and help build further programs from the evidence, and then bring it to the attention of state policy-makers. Rolf Blank, Lead author

Sorry. Will take a few more seconds to make sure that I'm reading the relevant report next time.

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  • Alexander Jaworowski: Sorry. Will take a few more seconds to make sure read more
  • Rolf Blank: Mr Jaworowski We appreciate your comments, but you are commenting read more
  • Alexander Jaworowski: Interesting information. I had to take a look in the read more