Professional Development


Recent research suggests that the quality of a teacher is the most important predictor of student success (Darling-Hammond, 1998). A Tennessee study (Haycock, 1998) discovered that low-achieving students increased their achievement level by as much as 53% when taught by a highly effective teacher. The sequence of teachers to which students were assigned also seemed to have an effect.

Professional Development Is Needed

McQueen (1999) states that four out of five teachers say they are not prepared to teach in today’s schools. Almost one-third are teaching outside their subject area. “In 1998, the U.S. Department of Education found that fewer that 75% of America’s teachers could be considered fully qualified (that is, have studied child development, learning, and teaching methods; hold a degree in their subject areas; and have passed state licensing requirements)” (Schargel & Smink, 2001, p. 143).

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) (1999) identified five characteristics of high-quality teachers:

  • Teachers are committed to students and their learning;
  • Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students;
  • Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning;
  • Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience; and
  • Teachers are members of learning communities.

What Is Professional Development?

Almost all school districts have some type of professional development for their teachers. The problem is that very few of these activities are effective in changing teaching practices. Most professional development is fragmented and short-term, and rarely focused on curriculum for students. State and local recertification or continuing education requirements are very broad; and in many cases, the experiences do not have to be relevant to curriculum content or teaching practice (Cohen & Hill, 1998; Hirsch, Koppich, & Knapp, 1998). Only 30% of teachers participated in professional development activities that required in-depth study of a specific field (Hirsch, Koppich, & Knapp, 1998). Content and duration are very important for effective professional development.

Impact of Professional Development

Haycock (1998) discovered that low-achieving students increased their achievement level by as much as 53% when taught by a highly effective teacher.

Wenglinsky (2000) found that certain types of professional development may have an impact on student achievement. Students whose teachers receive professional development in working with different student populations are 107% of a grade level ahead of their peers in math. Students whose teachers receive professional development in higher-order thinking skills are 40% of a grade level ahead of students whose teachers lack such training in mathematics. Students whose teachers receive professional development in laboratory skills are 44% of a grade level ahead of those whose teachers lack such training in science (p. 26).

Professional development can bridge some of the gaps in education for classroom teachers.

Key Elements of Successful Professional Development Programs

Professional development can have an impact on student achievement. The Council for School Performance (1998) has identified the following characteristics of effective professional development programs:

  • Long-term programs embedded in the school year;
  • Active learning activities such as demonstration, practice, and feedback;
  • Collaborative study of student learning; and
  • Administrative support for continuing collaboration to improve teaching and learning.

Darling-Hamond (1998) makes a strong argument for quality professional development by stating that each dollar spent on improving teachers’ qualifications nets greater gains in student learning than any other use of an education dollar. Professional development is a valuable tool in improving teacher competency, but it cannot stand alone. It is most effective when used in conjunction with the other 14 strategies (Reimer, 2004).


Cohen, D. K., & Kill, H. C. (1998). State policy and classroom performance: Mathematics reform in California. CPRE Policy Brief No. RB-27. Philadelphia: Consortium for Policy Research in Education, University of Pennsylvania.

Council for School Performance. (1998). Staff development and student achievement: Making the connection in Georgia schools. Atlanta: School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University.

Darling-Hammond, L. (1998). Investing in quality teaching: State-level strategies, 1999. Denver: Education Commission of the States.

Haycock, K. (1998). Good teaching matters. Washington, DC: Education Trust.

Hirsch, E., Koppich, J. E., & Knapp, M. S. (1998). What states are doing to improve the quality of teaching: A brief review of current patterns and trends. Seattle: The Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy, University of Washington.

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. (1999). What teachers should know and be able to do. Retrieved June 6, 2002, from:

McQueen, A. (1999). Survey: Teachers feel unprepared for specialties. Minneapolis, MN: Star Tribune.

Reimer, M. S. (2004). Professional development. In F. P. Schargel & J. Smink (Eds), Helping Students Graduate: A Strategic Approach to Dropout Prevention (pp. 187-196). Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.

Schargel, F. P., & Smink, J. (2001). Strategies to Help Solve our School Dropout Problem. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.

U.S. Department of Education. (1998). Promising practices: New ways to improve teacher quality. Washington, DC: Author.

Wenglinsky, H. (2000). How teaching matters: Bringing the classroom back into discussions of teacher quality. Retrieved July 17, 2006,