Why Take These Actions?
- Effective leaders use data and evaluation and establish accountability systems so their staff and programs have the feedback they need to continuously strengthen organizational functioning and improve results. This practice builds a culture of learning so that participants continually reflect on their needs, actions and results. [add strong statement here from the PD research base re: that such practices have been proven effective.]
- State leaders increasingly acknowledge the importance of the recommended actions for supporting growth and excellence in professional learning. Learning Forward’s 2011 standards for professional learning, which establish the importance of these practices within a cycle of continuous improvement, have been adopted by 38 states and were adopted or used by eleven of the 15 states in the SREB study.
- High-quality research on the effectiveness of professional learning programs and strategies is lacking nationwide. This shortcoming leaves state leaders with little high-quality evidence upon which to base the design of their professional learning initiatives and activities. In 2010, Learning Forward and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education studied state-level policies and strategies for professional development. The researchers found that, while policies and strategies that seemed promising could be identified, more research was needed to identify a causal relationship between state practices, teacher effectiveness and student achievement. In a 2007 review of research, Yoon and colleagues reviewed 1,343 studies addressing the effect of professional development programs on student learning outcomes in math, science, reading and language arts. They concluded that only nine of the studies employed sufficiently rigorous methods to meet the standards for credible evidence set by the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse, which is a division of the department’s Institute of Education Sciences charged with providing educators with information they need to make evidence-based decisions. Yoon and colleagues noted further that of those nine studies not one was recent; they dated between 1986 and 2003. The lack of robust research on the effectiveness of professional learning programs and strategies makes it imperative that state leaders embed evaluation of the professional learning they undertake into regular practice, in order to continually increase the evidence base upon which they make decisions about the use of funds, staff and time.
- Federal policy provides support for undertaking this work. The latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015, increases emphasis on data, evaluation and accountability for excellence in PL. In annual Title II applications, states must describe how their professional development activities are aligned with challenging state academic standards and how they are expected to improve student achievement; and provide an assurance that the SEA will monitor the implementation of professional development activities and use data to continually update and improve the activities. In annual Title II reports, states must describe how their chosen activities improved teacher, principal, or other school leader effectiveness. Further, states must require LEAs in their annual Title II applications to the state, to describe how LEA professional development activities will be aligned with challenging state academic standards and how the LEA will use data to continually update and improve activities. The state has flexibility to require that LEAs provide evidence of the extent to which their chosen activities improved teacher, principal, or other school leader effectiveness.
- SEA’s are well-placed to provide support for increasing the capacity of districts and schools to evaluate and continually reflect on their work. Through providing guidance and tools, professional learning and technical assistance, SEAs can help local leaders more rigorously and regularly examine data about a range of key aspects of the professional learning process from initial planning to ultimate outcomes (through the evaluation research questions listed above), thereby enhancing the quality and consistency of professional learning evaluation practices — and ultimately, professional learning outcomes —statewide. Yet, in its benchmarking study SREB found that, overall, states have not provided local leaders with much support for professional learning evaluation. This leaves a gap in the resources and supports school and district leaders can access to undertake this important and challenging work. Efforts in this area have varied widely, however — see below for a discussion of strong state efforts.
- The stakes are too high not to undertake this work. The money spent on professional learning nationwide is enormous. A 2015 study by TNTP estimated that the largest 50 school districts in the U.S. devote at least $8 billion to teacher development annually. And, the professional learning funded is not always high quality. In SREB’s interviews with educators, several teachers and school and district leaders shared that, year after year, they have sat through low-quality training that has not improved their practice. Although the financial and human capital needed to make comprehensive program evaluation part of regular practice can be great, when armed with timely monitoring data and comprehensive evaluation results, state and local leaders can direct funds and effort to programs that work, and stop repeatedly funding costly programs that do not produce needed change.