Johnson: Teacher Professional Development Is in a Rut, but Better Research Can Help. New Partnership Is Looking to Do Just That

The 74

By Sarah Johnson


What’s needed, in short, is a concerted effort to deepen research on teacher professional learning. The Research Partnership for Professional Learning, a collaboration of professional learning organizations and researchers at the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, is doing some of this work by uniting experts to drive a transformation of professional learning research and practice in the United States. To help focus the field, the partnership recently released a learning agenda that outlines its goals for improving teacher learning research and practice, including:

  • Shifting the types of questions that researchers study. Currently, most professional learning evaluates the effectiveness of specific programs in a thumbs-up or -down manner. Instead, the partnership will pursue studies that shed light on programs’ comparative effectiveness, to learn why certain approaches work so well.
  • Building knowledge across organizations and the educators they work with. Each partnership member has a different approach to professional learning. Some focus more on content, others on teacher mindsets; some engage with teams of teachers, while others work with coaches or instructional leaders. Of course, they all work with a variety of states and districts. Asking the same research questions across these different models and communities will rapidly increase understanding of what works and why.
  • Using randomized experiments to test specific program features, building knowledge about what works in a comprehensive manner.