NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Do Professional Development Programs Work?

February 27, 2014

Professional development programs in the field of education have very little scientific support, says Tom Loveless, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

  • Improving teaching through professional development (PD) is funded by all levels of government -- federal, state and local.
  • In 2014, $2.3 billion has been budgeted for Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which goes mainly toward development.

When schools implement reforms, they use PD programs to make the transition. But are they actually effective?

  • A study by the Instructional Research Group on professional development in K-12 math evaluated 910 PD studies in 2013.
  • Only 32 of those even had a design for assessing their effectiveness, and of those 32, only five met the What Works Clearinghouse standards.
  • Of those, two showed no effects, one showed limited effects and two showed positive results.

The results were not promising, and similar signs of ineffectiveness have been found elsewhere. The Institute for Education Sciences (IES) evaluated PD programs for both early reading and middle school math.

  • While teacher knowledge and instructional practices did change after the development programs, the effects lasted only one year and disappeared after that.
  • Many districts use an expensive PD strategy called coaching. Unfortunately, coaching led to no statistically significant effects for students or for teachers.
  • Neither program had a significant impact on student achievement.

Literature reviews of other PD studies indicate similar results. Loveless finds that the actual scientific basis for such PD programs is weak. Those teachers who improve, he says, generally do so based on their own common sense, personal experience or word of mouth, not based on a rigorously tested professional development program.

Source: Tom Loveless, "What Do We Know About Professional Development?" Education Next, February 19, 2014.


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