Teachers are the most important school based factor in advancing students’ learning and supporting their social-emotional development.
Through decades of shifting school reforms, policymakers have consistently called for stronger and more effective teacher learning opportunities as a means to school improvement. However, while research shows that effective professional learning (PL) can improve teacher practice and student outcomes, as a field we have struggled to develop PL opportunities that translate into improved student outcomes at scale.
A recent synthesis of research on math and science PL programs found that fewer than half significantly shifted teacher knowledge and practice, and only one third moved student outcomes. And across the country, many teachers report that they are not satisfied with the learning opportunities available to them.
Unfortunately, despite a large body of research on PL, we do not have great evidence on how best to design effective programs. Calls to improve PL tend to rely on a relatively slim set of design principles derived from studies that generalize common features across effective programs. However, most PL programs are designed as comprehensive packages, and much of the existing research tests only whether these programs work. This makes it difficult to isolate individual features that drive teacher learning. Because so much of the existing PL research is unable to isolate design choices faced by PL providers, these studies provide relatively little insight into what it will take to generate more effective PL at scale.