You are here

Research Center

Making the Most of Professional Development

Education data and research analysis from Edvantia

What can districts do to ensure that professional development strategies and spending align with findings from the best available research and affect student achievement? Three 2005 reports address these questions.

Good professional development

A research synopsis from the American Educational Research Association describes five studies, some experimental, that demonstrate impacts on student achievement when PD focuses on how students learn and understand subject matter, strengthens teachers' knowledge of subject matter, and aligns with actual classroom conditions.

It appears that when teachers have opportunities to learn their subject matter in ways similar to what is expected of their students and when teachers have a deep understanding of how students learn student achievement improves. AERA's Teaching Teachers: Professional Development to Improve Student Achievement cites studies showing the most effective PD is directly related to the curriculum and assessments teachers use in their classrooms.

Current practices

A National Center for Education Statistics brief, Characteristics of Public School Teachers' Professional Development Activities, summarizes data from the 1999-2000 Schools and Staffing Survey of 44,933 public school teachers and 9,415 principals. Among the findings:

Content vs. methods 73% of responding teachers said they had participated in PD related to methods of teaching during the previous year; 59% received PD related to their content area. Teachers in high-poverty schools reported more PD of both types. Elementary teachers were more likely than content-specific teachers to receive content-specific PD.

Duration A majority of teachers reported eight or fewer hours of PD in the previous 12 months. Teachers with four to 19 years of experience were more likely than less experienced teachers to receive more hours of PD.

Format 95% of the teachers said they had attended a workshop, conference or other training session in the previous 12 months; only 42% said they had participated in mentoring, peer observation or coaching.

Collective participation 74% of the teachers noted regular collaboration with other teachers on instructional issues. This was less likely among teachers with three or fewer years of experience and more likely among elementary teachers.

Alignment Principals cited school improvement plans and academic standards (59% and 52%, respectively) as having a "very important" impact on PD offerings.

Cost effectiveness

The AERA report notes that many states and districts don't know what they spend for PD, nor can they quantify the benefits they receive. Inside the Black Box, published by The Finance Project, details an analysis of data to capture expenditure policies at the district level. The study involved interviews and data collection in five urban districts. The researchers developed a strategy that would enable districts to gain more precise information about their PD investments. The authors recommend that districts look at spending in three categories targets, purposes and delivery systems and ensure that PD strategies align with findings from the best available research.

Researchers concluded that districts need to conduct a systematic evaluation of PD to look at current practices, spending and resources. The study found districts had more resources for PD than they thought, but the PD was not coordinated. The kind of analysis used in this study could help districts make better use of existing resources and plan future PD efforts.

Food for Thought

When researchers examined PD spending in five urban

districts, they found that most PD programs were funded from non-local sources,

fostering the implication that PD is an "extra," included when funding is available and not an integral part of the work of the school. Source: The Finance Project, 2005


Holland, H. (2005). "Teaching teachers: Professional development to improve student achievement ," Research Points, 3(1). Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.

Miles, K. H., Odden, A., Fermanich, M., Archibald, S. (2005). Inside the black box: School district spending on professional development in education: Lessons from five urban districts. Washington, DC: The Finance Project. Excerpts available :

Scotchmer, M., McGrath, D. J., & coder, E. (2005). Characteristics of public school teachers' professional development activities: 1999-2000 [Issue brief]. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.