Archived Information

CPRE Policy Brief: Helping Teachers Teach Well: Transforming Professional Development - June 1995

Conclusion: Going to Scale

Action is necessary. The current arrangements for the professional development of teachers too often lead to unfocused, fragmented, low-intensity activities that do not lead to significant changes in teaching practice. A different mindset is needed if professional development is to contribute to strengthening the profession and improving the schools. New approaches are needed to support the implementation of more rigorous standards, new curriculum frameworks, performance assessment, and changes in school organization and governance.

Before state policymakers can take action, however, it is important that they carefully review the current system of professional development in their states. The accompanying outline on reviewing professional development policies and practices provides a framework for assessing current state policies and practices regarding teacher professional development, and will help stimulate thinking about ways to improve it.

Perhaps the greatest challenge will be to develop the capacity to extend new approaches to the 2.4 million teachers working in 85,000 schools in the United States. Given current capacity and budget constraints, it seems an impossible quest to design, organize, fund and operate professional development initiatives that would involve all teachers--even all those in a single state--and successfully engage them in a process of reflection, growth, and improvement of practice. And the task will be virtually impossible if we continue to define the problem in this manner.

Going to scale itself requires a fresh mindset and new approaches. It means using all policy levers available to the state--aid to higher education, accreditation, certification and recertification requirements, and teacher compensation structures--to deliver a consistent message to teachers and local policymakers and administrators. Local policies and practices must change if teachers are to receive appropriate opportunities to learn. State and local policymakers must be willing to reallocate resources and redirect existing channels for professional development so that they are supportive of desired reforms.

Going to scale also requires changing the incentive structure for teachers to encourage them to seek knowledge and skills that they need. It means taking full advantage of every opportunity for professional growth--curriculum development, assessment programs, and teacher conventions. It means building new collaboratives and partnerships to mobilize and coordinate public and private resources. It requires making greater use of teacher and school networks, electronic networks and educational and cable television, to reinforce the message, help teachers acquire necessary skills and support their efforts to change. Finally, it means adopting a different time-frame and making a long-term commitment to reform based on a coherent set of principles and policies.

Reforming teacher professional development may sound like an impossible task, but engaging all teachers in discussions of good practice and supporting their efforts to learn and to use more effective pedagogy may be the first real step towards higher standards for all children.

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