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What Policymakers Can Do To Advance High-Quality Professional Development At Scale


"In this Brief, we recommend five sets of actions for policymakers and district leaders, along with citations to case studies and tools they can use to follow these steps. In a nutshell, here's what we think policymakers and school districts must do to create more effective professional learning systems that support teachers and the Common Core:

1. Clarify where your dollars are going and prioritize how they can be used most effectively.
Most urban districts are spending a lot more than they realize on in-service days and training. They're also finding that resources and funding for ongoing high-quality professional development -- including, for example, expanding on-site coaching, allotting time for teachers to collaborate and paying for CCSS-aligned materials -- requires making choices among competing priorities. Most administrators acknowledge the question is not whether a school or district has money to work with but whether these resources could be better used. Education leaders should find out where professional development dollars are going and reallocate funds as needed to the activities we describe in this brief.

2. Find -- or create -- the time needed for high-quality, common core-aligned professional development.
The real cost of high-quality professional development comes from making time in the school day for teachers to study, improve their lessons plans and get feedback and support from peers -- the linchpin to successfully helping teachers use the new standards well in classrooms, according to our research. School systems have found all sorts of ways to provide more time, from enabling school principals to set their schools' schedules to providing additional funding through revisions in state funding formulas or access to federal or other grants.

3. Look for proof that professional development materials and programs are high-quality and effective.
Evaluating the quality and effects of professional development is necessary to improve and channel investments into the professional learning activities and supports that make a difference. Systems for tracking and monitoring the quality of professional learning programs still vary widely across states and districts, and too few places establish clear criteria or guidelines for ensuring the highest quality professional development.

4. Shift leadership priorities to emphasize schoolwide instructional change and ongoing professional development.
Without strong and effective leaders who sponsor high-quality professional learning for all teachers in their schools and districts, pockets of excellence will remain isolated, hindering widespread improvement. To effectively support their teachers as they use the new standards, principals and district leaders need support themselves for planning, a deep understanding of the standards and instructional shifts, and training in recognizing new effective classroom practices.

5. Ensure That All Teachers And Administrators Receive Sustained, High-Quality Professional Development That Helps Them Succeed With The Common Core.
The sort of high-quality professional development we identify in our briefs is complex: It is ongoing and sustained, requires active engagement and focuses on particular content. Complex activities usually work well for a few but too often depth is sacrificed for breadth when programs scale up. With the Common Core standards, we need professional development that is both high-quality and widely scaled. Reaching scale, as the examples in this brief show, requires multiple methods and flexibility supported by common goals and, ideally, common instructional materials."

Related Briefs:
-- The New Essential Elements Of Professional Learning
-- What Does High-Quality, Common Core-Aligned Professional Development Look Like? Three Vignettes