Teaching Children Well

Last month, Robert Pianta of the Center for American Progress released a report reflecting on new evidence-based approaches to professional development and training of teachers.  He notes the lack of a “stockpile” of effective teacher preparation and PD approaches to help states and districts meet the needs of their teachers, which has led to districts spending buckets of PD money “on models that are known to be ineffective,” such as one-time workshops that focus on general knowledge rather than skill development.

Given current budgetary issues, it is “imperative that education leaders use existing [PD and training] money wisely and efficiently.”  Since teachers are the biggest school-based influence on student performance, it is necessary for districts to invest in targeted PD opportunities that will deliver real results for students.

Pianta focuses on a web-based approach to PD called MyTeachingPartner (MTP), as a proxy for other web-based programs that are scalable and can be designed to meet the particular needs of a district.  MTP uses a standardized method of online, individualized coaching and a library of video clips showing effective teachers in action, coupled with a standardized metric for observing teacher practice in the classroom, called the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS).  This type of system is embedded in and focused on actual classroom practices of teachers and focuses on skill development, with an explicit link between assessment and improvement.

The advantage these types of systems are that that the target is very specific and focused and has a clear link to student outcomes.  To ensure the target is met, PD can be tailored for each teacher depending on his or her current skills or gaps in knowledge.  “In this way, effective professional development, whether knowledge-, skill-, or curriculum-focused, reflects a very tight coupling, or alignment, between the activities in which teachers engage to improve their knowledge and skill and the actual student achievement and social behaviors that are the ultimate goals of professional development.”

Pianta formulates several policy recommendations, including:

1. Explicit requirements for criteria related to the actual processes by which specific PD activities are intended to improve teacher performance and student achievement.

2. Evidence of impact for any professional-development model should be present in order to be eligible for use of public funds.

3. Development and use of guides for districts and state leaders that specify explicit criteria for selection of effective PD.

4. Tighter monitoring of the use of public funds for the purposes of providing PD for teachers.

5. Requirements by state and federal agencies that direct, valid assessments of teacher performance be included as part of teacher preparation and certification systems.

To read the full report, please visit http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/11/teaching_children_well.html