No Panacea: Key Obstacles to Effective Teacher Professional Development

New AmericaHistorically, states and districts have invested large sums on teacher professional development or “PD” as the primary strategy to help teachers improve their practice. Despite its potential, in its present state, PD has gained a poor reputation among educators and those who study education, in part because little evidence exists that the significant investment of time and financial resources in PD has been consistently effective.

What is preventing professional development from having its promised impact? Should states and districts be looking at other strategies for raising the quality of teaching for students? In a new report, No Panacea: Diagnosing What Ails Teacher Professional Development Before Reaching for Remedies, New America identifies key obstacles that prevent PD from reaching its potential for growing teachers’ knowledge and skills in the service of their students. The key obstacles are as follows:

  • Lack of a shared vision around what excellent teaching entails
  • Limited useful data on teacher development needs
  • A failure to prioritize leaders’ roles and skills in identifying teacher and student learning needs
  • Evidence on which approaches are most likely to be effective is not utilized
  • Various PD efforts not coherently integrated
  • Insufficient capacity throughout all levels of the education system
  • Lack of accountability for PD effectiveness
  • Uncertainty about how to measure PD inputs or outcomes

 The authors find that these obstacles prevent four elements of a productive PD cycle from occurring: 1) identifying teachers’ development needs; 2) selecting aligned, evidence-based PD approaches; 3) implementing approaches with fidelity;  and 4) assessing outcomes. The authors argue that these obstacles are reinforced by challenges in the professional culture experienced by many teachers. They also highlight how federal, state, district, and school-level actors all play a role in contributing to these obstacles and professional culture barriers, as do educator preparation programs.

Melissa Tooley and Kaylan Connally, the report’s co-authors, intend for No Panacea to provide a diagnosis of the underlying causes of ineffective PD that can serve as a foundation for remedying our nation’s approach to teacher development. “Ultimately, we strive to encourage a move away from putting Band-Aids on our current PD efforts and toward working collaboratively to create a high-functioning system of educator professional learning, from initial preparation through the highest levels of career advancement.”

For the report, see


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