U.S. Lags Behind with Isolated Teacher Training

A new report from the National Staff Development Council shows that American teachers continue to have few opportunities for effective, on-the-job training, despite high levels of participation in professional development activities and an increase in enrollment by new teachers in induction and mentorship programs. Professional development activities tend to occur primarily in isolation, instead of as ongoing, sustained support. Key findings include:

  • According to data from the 2003-2004 Schools and Staffing Survey, professional development hours spent across topics were typically less than 16 hours (2 days or less) in length, even though research has shown that this amount of time is insufficient to impact teachers’ instructional practices and student achievement.
  • Although research suggests that effective teacher development occurs in a setting that actively draws on professional knowledge and skills, it is unclear whether schools schedule opportunities for collaboration regularly and at the frequency needed to make an impact. 
  • According to the SASS, fewer than 50% of teachers rated their professional development as useful. Teachers also expressed a desire for further professional development on the content they teach, classroom management, and teaching students with special needs.

Compared to high-achieving countries, American schools show notable deficiencies with respect to observational visits to other classrooms and schools, collaborative action research, and regularly scheduled collaboration among teachers on issues of instruction. Additionally, unlike teachers in other countries, most teachers in the U.S. do not feel that they influence school decisions and policies. This may indicate an important connection between a perceived influence over school decisions and policies and a sense that one can impact decisions that actually affect teachers and students.

In Doubling Student Performance … and finding the resources to do it (Corwin Press), authors Allan Odden, SMHC Co-Director, and Sarah Archibald note the importance of ongoing, intensive development of the nature recommended in this report. Additionally, the book discusses how many schools and districts reallocate resources to fund professional development, and indicates how the appropriate professional development resources can be included in state finance structures.

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