District and State Influences on

Professional Development and School Capacity

 

 

Peter Youngs

University of Wisconsin, Madison

 

August 2, 1999

 

 

 

 

 

DELIVERABLE TO OERI – AUGUST 2, 1999

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This paper was supported by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement (Grant No. R308F60021-97), the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Spencer Foundation, and the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Fred Newmann, Bruce King, and Jennifer Borman provided helpful reactions to earlier drafts.  Any opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of supporting agencies.

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            In the last several years, research on instruction and school organization has generated new ways of thinking about the capacity of schools to influence student achievement.  One conception, employed in this paper, defines a school’s capacity as including the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of individual teachers; the strength of the school’s professional community; and the extent to which its programs are coherent (King & Newmann, 1999).  According to this conception, professional development can strengthen a school’s capacity by enhancing these three dimensions.  Because districts and states are important actors in shaping professional development in schools, they have significant potential to affect school capacity (Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin, 1996; Newmann & Wehlage, 1995; Spillane & Thompson, 1997).  Districts and states provide professional development directly to teachers, but they also affect school capacity by initiating a variety of other policies that shape the way professional development is conducted. 

            Despite a growing consensus among educators and policy makers regarding the centrality of professional development in efforts to reform schools, most professional development efforts fail to take account of new ideas about school capacity.  In addition, there has been little attention among researchers to the implications of these ideas for policy related to professional development.  Based on a review of research on district and state policy, this paper examines the extent to which several innovative reforms related to professional development influence different aspects of school capacity, as defined above.[1] Such reforms include teacher networks, instructional consulting services, intervisitation, student performance assessment systems, and school improvement plans.  After reviewing research on these reforms, the paper draws some general policy guidelines and considers the role of individual schools in determining whether promising professional development activities actually result in enhanced capacity.

 

I.          School Capacity and Professional Development

 

            This paper is part of a continuing study of the potential of professional development to improve student achievement in traditionally low-achieving, high-poverty schools.  The conception of school capacity used in the study represents a synthesis of prior research on school reform and organizational change (e.g., Cohen & Ball, in progress; Corcoran & Goertz, 1995; Louis, Kruse, & Associates, 1995; Newmann, King, & Rigdon, 1997; O’Day, Goertz, & Floden, 1995; Talbert & McLaughlin, 1994).  According to this conception, a school’s capacity to improve student achievement includes teachers’ knowledge, skills, and dispositions; the strength of the school’s professional community; and the degree to which its programs are coherent, focused, and sustained over time (King & Newmann, 1999).  Technical and other human resources - such as the school’s operating budget, curriculum and assessment materials, and administrative leadership – may be important aspects of capacity, but are not featured in this conception because these resources usually are not directly influenced by professional development for teachers.

            With regard to teachers’ abilities, school capacity includes teachers’ knowledge, skills, and dispositions related to curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, classroom management, and expectations for students.  A strong professional community is characterized by shared goals for student learning; meaningful collaboration among faculty; in-depth inquiry into assumptions, evidence, and alternative solutions to problems; and opportunities for teachers to exert influence over the work (King & Newmann, 1999).  Teacher influence has two dimensions – the degree to which teachers are involved in making meaningful decisions about the operation of their schools (teacher empowerment) and the degree to which their schools have autonomy from their districts with regard to decisions about curriculum, assessment, and professional development (school autonomy).  Program coherence refers to whether programs for students and faculty are focused and sustained over time as opposed to being diffuse, fragmented, and episodic.  This conception of school capacity provides a useful framework for critiquing both traditional and more innovative approaches to professional development.  It suggests the need to examine not only whether professional development impacts teachers’ abilities, but also whether it leads to a strong professional community and program coherence within individual schools.

            Traditional approaches to professional development in most districts and states typically consist of brief workshops and in-services, and annual supervision by administrators.  Such approaches generally have little long-term influence on any of the dimensions of school capacity.  Workshops and in-services often have a negligible impact on teachers’ knowledge, skills, and dispositions because they usually place teachers in a passive role, fail to consider their previous experiences or the contexts in which they work, and offer few opportunities for follow-up (Corcoran, 1995; Little, 1993).  Supervision frequently fails to foster professional growth because administrators lack experience in the teachers’ content area or have little time to provide assistance to those who need it (Corcoran, 1995; Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin, 1996).  These traditional approaches are based on theories of teacher learning that do not view such learning as depending on the development of the school’s organizational capacity.  As a result, they also have little impact on professional community or program coherence.

            Given the shortcomings of traditional approaches, researchers have identified a number of principles based on theoretical and empirical analyses to guide the design of professional development activities.  For one, professional development should provide teachers with meaningful opportunities to actively engage with new disciplinary ideas and acquire new instructional strategies (Little, 1993; Corcoran, 1995).  Such opportunities are crucial in helping teachers learn to promote critical thinking, active learning, and genuine understanding among students.  Second, professional development should involve collaboration with colleagues and opportunities to engage in reflective inquiry (Elmore, 1997; Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin, 1996).  Collaboration enables teachers to share knowledge about curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment while inquiry can lead them to examine their beliefs and assumptions about teaching and to consider alternative solutions to problems.

            A third principle is that professional development should take individual teachers’ backgrounds into consideration as well as the contexts in which they work (Little, 1993).  This stands in contrast to traditional approaches which typically present the same content to teachers with different levels of experience and who work in different settings.  When professional development takes account of teachers’ experiences and work contexts, it is more likely to result in substantive changes in their practices.  Finally, given that implementation of complex reforms often requires support over a number of years (e.g., Fennema et al., 1996; Stein & D’Amico, 1998), professional development should provide teachers with sufficient time and follow-up support, including regular feedback from accomplished practitioners (Corcoran, 1995; Elmore, 1997). 

            In recent years, several states and districts have implemented a variety of innovative approaches to professional development that reflect these principles.  This paper is based on a review of empirical research on such approaches, and focuses on teacher networks in California (known as the California Subject Matter Projects) and instructional consulting services and intervisitation in New York City’s District 2.  I chose to examine these two initiatives for several reasons.  First, provide opportunities for teachers to construct their own understandings of content and pedagogy, learn to engage students in active learning, and reflect with others on their practice. Second, these programs have been in place for many years and have influenced significant numbers of teachers.  Third, research has been conducted that examines the impact of these programs on various dimensions of school capacity. 

This paper also examines the impact on school capacity of two other innovative reforms, student performance assessment systems and school improvement (SI) plans, both of which have important implications for professional development and teacher learning.  I chose to study how the student assessment systems in Kentucky and Maryland influence capacity because these states were among the first to implement performance assessments on a statewide basis and many other states are considering or have already implemented similar assessments.  Similarly, I elected to examine SI plans in South Carolina and Chicago because many states and districts in the U.S. require schools to develop such plans and research from these two jurisdictions enables us to consider the impact on capacity of SI plans in two significantly different contexts.

In reviewing empirical research on the role of state and district policy, I could find no studies that examined the influence of professional development on all three dimensions of school capacity.  It is also important to point out that the various studies cited below employed a range of different research methodologies.  Pennell and Firestone (1996), for example, interviewed teachers who had participated in activities sponsored by three of the California Subject Matter Projects (CSMPs), their principals, project directors, and state-level officials; and observed several CSMP activities.  In contrast, Medina and St. John (1997) conducted in-depth interviews with 12 teacher leaders who had participated in CSMP activities and surveyed over 200 other teacher leaders.  Finally, it should be noted that some of the programs examined in the paper have been studied more extensively than others.  In Chicago, for example, Bryk and colleagues drew on data from surveys of more than 80 percent of elementary school teachers and principals in the district, in-depth case studies of six elementary schools, and a synthesis of findings from two separate case-study projects involving 22 elementary schools (Bryk et al., 1998). In a different study, Jennings and Spillane (1996) interviewed administrators and teachers in four schools and three districts in South Carolina, but spent much less time observing instruction and did not collect survey data.

Despite these limitations, the findings from these studies enable us to consider the influence of teacher networks, consultants, intervisitation, performance assessment systems, and intervisitation on the three dimensions of school capacity – teachers’ knowledge, skills, and dispositions; professional community; and program coherence.  Such an analysis is needed given the fact that very few studies have examined the influence of these reforms on school capacity, even though many districts and states are considering or have already implemented one or more of them.

II.        Districts and States as Providers of Professional Development

           

A.        Teacher Networks

 

The first part of this section examines whether teacher networks in California enhance the development of different aspects of school capacity.  In recent years, a number of states have established teacher networks and provided other opportunities for teachers to learn about new content, pedagogy, and assessment through summer institutes or regional service centers.  In California, for example, the California Subject Matter Projects were established in the 1980s as part of the state’s efforts to align professional development with subject-area frameworks, textbooks, and assessments. There are CSMPs in eight content areas, including literature, writing, mathematics, science, and history-social science.  Each project offers a three- to five-week summer institute to which teachers must apply.  In addition, some projects offer institutes and workshops that are open to all. Accomplished teachers are usually selected to participate in the invitational institutes while less experienced teachers typically attend the open institutes and workshops.

The CSMPs have two main purposes.  They are designed to promote student-centered teaching and constructivist learning and to help teachers develop leadership skills and assume leadership positions within the projects, in schools, and in the statewide educational arena.  The projects employ a teachers-teaching-teachers model and have attempted to recruit “the most talented and experienced teachers in the state” so that they “can share their knowledge with their peers” (Stokes, Hirabayashi, & St. John, 1998, p.1).  According to the principles underlying the CSMPs, teachers are seen as creators of curriculum, pedagogy, and professional development, rather than as passive recipients of information.  The principles also state that individual and school change should be seen as long-term processes and support should be provided to teachers over many years (California Subject Matter Projects, n.d.).  Finally, the CSMPs seek to form self-sustaining learning communities for teachers that are not typically located in their schools.

            Researchers have examined the nature of the professional development that occurs at CSMP sites as well as its impact on participants and teacher leaders (i.e., those who facilitate the institutes and workshops).  Firestone and Pennell, for example, studied the projects in writing, mathematics, and literature (Firestone & Pennell, 1997; Pennell & Firestone, 1996).  They found that participants in the invitational institutes sponsored by these sites often co-created the agenda and shared their expertise through a variety of learning activities.  At many sites, only teachers who expressed a commitment to constructivist conceptions of teaching were selected to attend the institutes.  In the open institutes and workshops, by contrast, teacher leaders usually delivered information about constructivist approaches and modeled instructional practices for other teachers.  These activities were generally aimed at practitioners who were less experienced with such approaches (Pennell & Firestone, 1996).  While it was important for these teachers to be exposed to new ideas from their disciplines and new pedagogical approaches, they were less likely than the participants in the invitational institutes to translate these new disciplinary ideas into learning activities appropriate for their students.

            In studies of all eight of the subject matter projects and over 200 teacher leaders, including case studies of 12 teacher leaders, Inverness Research Associates also found that the nature of professional development varied among sites (St. John et al., 1995; Medina & St. John, 1997).  At the more fully developed sites, teachers’ knowledge was the starting point for site activities and the leaders were usually teachers who had previously been participants at the sites for many years.  The studies revealed, though, that less mature projects and sites generally viewed their disciplines as the only legitimate sources of knowledge.  Instead of providing opportunities for teachers to create their own knowledge, these sites attempted to transmit knowledge and skills to participants (St. John et al., 1995).  As a result, teachers at these sites had few opportunities to reflect on the implications of new disciplinary ideas for their practices.

 

 

Influence on Teachers’ Knowledge, Skills, and Dispositions

 

            Findings from these studies indicate that the CSMPs potentially enhance school capacity in several ways. First, participants in the invitational institutes acquired knowledge about new disciplinary ideas and instructional strategies.  At institutes sponsored by the literature project, for example, secondary school teachers learned to teach literature from a variety of perspectives, place questions at the center of instruction, encourage diverse interpretations of literature, and assess what students have learned through multiple activities (Ramage & St. John, 1997).  The writing project institutes introduced elementary school teachers to the different stages of the writing process as well as strategies for helping students select their own topics and engage in peer editing.  For their part, institutes for middle school math teachers addressed such topics as identifying patterns, computing fractions, predicting odds, and calculating volume. 

            While teachers with constructivist beliefs usually acquired content knowledge and/or pedagogical strategies as a result of their experiences in the invitational institutes, the CSMPs had a much different effect on teachers with little prior exposure to constructivist approaches.  In open institutes and workshops, inexperienced teachers often sought curricular materials and ideas for lessons, but they generally had little reaction to the conception of teaching underlying the activities.  On the other hand, teachers with more experience using traditional approaches were more likely to openly question the value of constructivist programs.  In their classrooms, both groups of teachers “treated what they learned from programs as add-ons to their more traditional lessons” (Pennell & Firestone, 1996, p.61).  The marginal impact on these teachers’ instructional practices was probably due to their being placed in a passive role, a failure to consider their previous experiences and the contexts in which they worked, and a lack of follow-up in their classrooms.

            Another important aspect of school capacity involves teachers’ expectations for students.  The case studies of teacher leaders conducted by Inverness Research Associates provide examples of teachers who maintained high expectations for their students. One of the profiled teacher leaders was a writing teacher at a middle school with homogeneously-grouped classes who treated the students in her remedial class the same as the students in her gifted and talented class.  Another of the profiled leaders was a math teacher who found that his use of portfolios and problems with multiple solutions enabled all of his students to experience success. “The kind of creative work that kids can do now,” he reported, “is a whole level above what you can get from traditional teaching” (Medina & St. John, 1997, p.8).

 

Influence on Professional Community

 

            In addition to influencing teachers’ knowledge, skills, and dispositions, the CSMPs seemed to influence school capacity by providing opportunities for teachers to collaborate with peers, engage in reflective inquiry, and assume a variety of leadership roles.  At the invitational institutes, teachers collaborate with peers in developing agendas (for the institutes), creating lessons, and reflecting on their experiences with new strategies.  Further, when they return to their schools, many participants were more disposed to work collaboratively with peers.  In the best cases, CSMPs enable teachers to work with each other in ways that promoted both the ability and the propensity to work collegially. For example, one institute participant noted that it was “the interactive discussion of our use of teaching ideas, more than just the ideas, that is important” (Medina & St. John, 1997, p.7).  At the same time, though, Pennell and Firestone (1996) found that participants at the open institutes and workshops were much less likely to work collaboratively with peers.  In addition, in their study of all eight projects, Inverness Research Associates rated “many CSMP sites relatively low in terms of the degree to which they challenged the intellectual reflection and inquiry of teachers” (St. John et al., 1995, p.III-10).

            The CSMPs also offered a variety of leadership opportunities for teachers.  As a result of their participation in project institutes, many teachers served as institute directors, workshop coordinators, and members of various state and regional committees.  All Bay Area (BAWP) activities, for example, were staffed by teacher leaders who have attended the BAWP’s invitational institutes.  In addition, many institute participants assumed leadership positions in their schools and districts, “designing and adopting curriculum, presenting workshops to colleagues, (and) planning and facilitating programs for staff development” (Medina & St. John, 1997, p.18).  In a survey of 206 institute participants, Medina and St. John (1997) found that over 90 percent designed and wrote curriculum for their classrooms and served on curriculum committees at their school.  In addition, over 90 percent had presented workshops to teachers in their districts, and 80 percent had helped plan district professional development activities (Medina & St. Jean, 1997).

            Despite their emphasis on preparing teacher leaders, the CSMPs seem to have had little influence on whether teachers who participated in project activities were involved in establishing shared goals or making meaningful decisions at their schools.  This may have been due to the fact that the conception of teacher leadership underlying the CSMPs did not involve training teachers to actively address such issues in their own institutions.  Further, by enabling accomplished teachers to collaborate and engage in reflective inquiry with peers from other schools, the projects have lead many of them to identify much more strongly with these practitioners than with colleagues at their own schools.  This may have made it difficult for the projects to have any positive impact on professional community within individual schools.

            Given the uncertain impact of the CSMPs on professional community, it would be useful for researchers to investigate attempts that some of the projects have made to establish partnerships with individual schools engaged in reform.  The Writing Project, for example, is one of the few projects that has expanded its offerings beyond summer institutes and workshops to include providing technical assistance to entire faculties over time.  Researchers could examine the ways in which project staff work with these schools, how many teachers from these schools have participated in summer institutes and other project activities, the nature of the professional relations between these project participants and other school staff, and how these overall efforts by projects to promote restructuring affect school professional community.

 

Influence on Program Coherence

 

            With regard to the third component of school capacity, the CSMPs seem to have had little effect on the focus and continuity of professional development at individual schools.  While project participants had opportunities to focus on the same areas of professional development over time, most of the projects did not work with individual school faculties.  According to Inverness Research Associates, “with the exception of the Writing Project, many CSMP sites have not yet found ways to directly and formally connect their work with individual schools and districts” (St. John et al., 1995, p.III-5). 

 

B.        Instructional Consulting Services and Intervisitation

 

The remainder of this section considers the extent to which the use of consultants and intervisitation in Community School District 2 in New York City seems to promote the development of various dimensions of school capacity.  While many school districts employ consultants to provide brief workshops and in-services on a range of topics, District 2 has had them work in a sustained way with individual teachers and groups of teachers at their schools.  Through intervisitation and a professional development laboratory, District 2 has also provided opportunities for teachers to observe accomplished peers. The district’s approach to professional development is designed to promote collaboration, provide ongoing support to teachers as they attempt to implement new curriculum and pedagogy, hold all teachers and administrators responsible for instructional improvement, and have teachers focus improvement efforts on specific parts of the curriculum for long periods of time (Elmore, 1997).

After Anthony Alvarado became superintendent in 1987, District 2 elected to focus on improving instruction and student performance in reading and writing.  The district, which includes about 30 elementary and middle schools, hired consultants with expertise in literature-based approaches to literacy instruction to provide demonstration lessons to teachers, observe teachers in their classrooms, and provide them with feedback.  Consultants in the district have “typically work(ed) one-on-one with eight to ten teachers for blocks of three to four months each” as well as working “with grade-level teams and larger groups of teachers during planning periods, lunch hour, and after school” (Elmore, 1997, p.17). 

A related form of professional development in District 2 has been the use of intervisitation to expose teachers to exemplary practices.  During consultants’ visits, teachers have frequently visited their peers’ classrooms either to observe another teacher presenting a lesson or a consultant giving a demonstration lesson.  Similarly, groups of teachers have often visited other schools in anticipation of developing new instructional practices.  District 2 has also established a professional development laboratory which has enabled teachers to visit accomplished peers in their classrooms for extended periods of time.  Each visiting teacher spends three weeks of intensive observation and supervised practice in a resident teacher’s classroom (Elmore, 1997).  While the visiting teacher works with the resident teacher, an experienced and well-qualified substitute takes over their classroom.  

The district’s approach to literacy instruction, known as the Balanced Literacy Program, has been in place for more than a decade.  District staff monitor teachers’ implementation of the components of this program by observing classrooms and speaking regularly with principals and consultants.  When it became evident, for example, that many teachers were struggling to implement guided reading, district staff decided to provide more professional development on this element of Balanced Literacy (Stein, D’Amico, & Israel, 1998).  The district began offering full-day sessions in which new and struggling teachers discussed the theory underlying guided reading and observed live demonstrations of quality practice.  Through intervisitation, teachers also have had opportunities to see “what is involved in all the interactions that comprise guided reading in a (classroom) setting” (Stein, D’Amico, & Israel, 1998, p.10).  Finally, to help these teachers improve their guided reading instruction, consultants and principals observe their classrooms and reflect with them on their practice.

A few years ago, district staff developed a series of guidelines for classroom instruction and professional development in literacy.  These guidelines, consistent with the Balanced Literacy model, emphasized the need for teachers to allocate specific amounts of time to the following instructional activities: guided reading, shared reading, independent reading, word study, read aloud, and writing.  While district staff pay close attention to the implementation of Balanced Literacy, their ultimate aim is not to ensure that teachers are spending particular amounts of time on each of the program components.  Instead, they are seeking “to get each teacher to the point where she understands each of her students deeply and can plan and deliver instruction to meet that child’s needs” (Stein & D’Amico, 1998, p.20).  District staff view the Balanced Literacy Program as providing a scaffold for new and struggling teachers and low-performing schools until they develop expertise at identifying students’ needs and planning and delivering instruction to meet these needs.

 

Influence on Teachers’ Knowledge, Skills, and Dispositions

 

            Researchers have studied the impact of consulting services and intervisitation on teachers and schools in District 2.  Findings from these studies indicate that the district’s approach has enhanced teachers’ knowledge, skills, and dispositions in the area of literacy instruction.  In a study of nine teachers in three elementary schools, Stein and D’Amico found that all of the teachers were allocating a significant amount of time to literacy instruction (1998).  An average of 1.8 hours was devoted by the teachers each morning to district-recommended literacy activities.  In one school, teachers “implemented a morning literacy program that - in form - was almost completely congruent with the literacy block structure set forth by the district” (Stein & D’Amico, 1998, p.14).  At a second school, the teachers regularly engaged students in guided reading and shared reading and, as recommended by the district, spent much more time on reading activities than writing.

            These findings suggest that elementary school teachers in District 2 are disposed to focus on literacy.  Further, the district’s use of consultants and intervisitation has fostered teachers’ acquisition of knowledge, skills, and dispositions related to guided reading, shared reading, independent reading, word study, read aloud, and writing.  In a study of 12 teachers in three elementary schools, though, Stein, D’Amico, and Israel (1998) reported that teachers’ actual practices in guided reading and word study were uneven.  In 72 classroom observations, the researchers found that the teachers frequently provided meaningful support to students during guided reading.  In addition, they occasionally helped them acquire general reading strategies for later independent use (Stein, D’Amico, & Israel, 1998).  At the same time, the researchers noted that it was rare “to find focused Guided Reading sessions in which the teacher had a clear instructional purpose for the lesson” (Stein, D’Amico, & Israel, 1998, p.9).

            Stein, D’Amico, and Israel (1998) also examined the teachers’ approaches to the study of words.  According to the tenets of the Balanced Literacy Program, the study of words ideally would be closely integrated with the literature-based instructional strategies that make up the program.  The researchers found, though, that only a few teachers had a plan of word study topics to be covered in their grade, incorporated purposeful attention to words in their lessons, or were able to integrate knowledge of students’ needs, literature, and upcoming topics in planning instruction (Stein, D’Amico, & Israel, 1998).  In addition, the principals at all three schools indicated that many of their teachers lacked the ability to assess students’ experiences with texts and use this data in making instructional decisions.      

District 2’s approach to professional development has also influenced teachers’ expectations.  Many teachers throughout the district “report feeling that they are held to much higher expectations than peers in other districts, although usually without seeing these expectations as negative” (Elmore, 1997, p.34).

 

Influence on Professional Community

 

            District 2’s approach to professional development potentially enhances the development of professional community by providing opportunities for teachers to collaborate with peers, promoting shared goals within individual schools, and giving principals and schools autonomy to make decisions about professional development.  It is not possible, though, to say whether the district’s use of consultants and intervisitation promotes reflective inquiry because the available research did not examine whether such inquiry was occurring.  With regard to collaboration, schedules in many schools are arranged so that teachers from the same grade level are able to meet during their planning periods to plan instruction.  For their part, consultants generally “establish close working relationships with small groups of teachers” and often meet with them during common planning periods (Elmore, 1997, p.17).  As part of the PDL, visiting teachers collaborate with resident teachers as well as the substitutes who take over their classrooms.

In the three schools in their study, Stein and D’Amico found some evidence of shared goals.  The teachers at each school generally “expressed similar vision(s) regarding instructional aims and practices” (Stein & D’Amico, 1998, p.14).  Despite the focus on instructional improvement in District 2 and the findings from Stein and D’Amico’s study, though, there is little evidence from individual schools of agreement on specific outcomes within different content areas.  Due to principal and teacher turnover, two of the schools face particularly strong obstacles to developing shared goals with regard to student outcomes.  According to Stein, D’Amico, and Israel, the efforts of new principals at these schools “to repair some of the previous poor staffing choices have led to a significant number of new and inexperienced teachers” (1998, p.22).

            With regard to teacher influence, District 2’s approach to professional development provides some degree of autonomy to individual schools.  Each school is “allocated a lump sum for professional development that they decide how to spend in accordance with a school site plan” (Elmore, 1997, p.33).  Principals are responsible for developing these plans which must include objectives and strategies for meeting them.  From the data available, it is unclear the extent to which teachers are involved in the formation of these plans.  If teachers in most schools have little role in developing these plans, this would pose a serious threat to the development of school capacity.  While principals are required to develop school site plans, district staff establish the structure for the plans, determine which consultants can be employed by schools, “oversee and review principals’ priorities and pay regular visits to schools and classrooms to review principals’ progress” (Elmore, 1997, p.33).

            There is evidence that some schools in District 2 have less autonomy to make decisions about instruction than others.  In their study, Stein and D’Amico (1998) found that teachers in two of the schools were expected to closely follow the district’s guidelines for literacy instruction.  These schools were designated as Focus Literacy schools because they had consistently failed to meet the district’s expectations on standardized reading tests.  In contrast, teachers from the third school implemented some practices that did not come from the Balanced Literacy Program and were less likely than other teachers in the study “to incorporate all of the Balanced Literacy components into any given morning’s activities” (Stein & D’Amico, 1998, p.16).  Unlike their counterparts in the third school, the teachers and principal in the Focus Literacy schools received much more intensive instructional support from district staff as well as being subject to tighter oversight.  While the district’s approach may potentially weaken teacher autonomy in these schools in the short-term, it is part of a long-term strategy to enhance teachers’ abilities and student performance by combining regular monitoring with an infusion of resources and assistance.

 

Influence on Program Coherence

 

            The district has promoted program coherence by focusing its professional development efforts on literacy for a sustained period of time.  Aware that teachers were unlikely to make changes in their instructional practices in several content areas at once, district staff worked to “create the expectation that system-wide changes (could) occur in certain domains and that over time these changes (could) reach progressively more content areas and more teachers” (Elmore & Burney, 1997, p.8).  For their part, teachers indicated that the district’s priorities have been clear, and that they have rarely received conflicting signals about which activities they should engage in (Elmore, 1997).  This, of course, is a radical departure from teachers’ experiences in most other districts.

            District 2’s use of consultants and intervisitation has also fostered program coherence.  District staff “recruit, select, and oversee the professional developers who work in the area of literacy with teachers” (D’Amico & Stein, 1998, p.10).  As a result, they have been able to ensure that each consultant was committed to the district’s approach to literacy instruction.  These consultants have worked with individual teachers and groups of teachers in an ongoing way.  This has enabled teachers to develop and refine practices to which they were first exposed in off-site, summer training or in observing lessons taught by consultants or peers.  As part of the PDL, after visiting teachers have completed three weeks in resident teachers’ classrooms, the residents follow-up by observing the visitors’ practice in their own classrooms and providing feedback to them (Elmore, 1997).

            Finally, the district has contributed to program coherence in individual schools by stressing the need for teachers to employ a common set of literacy activities and to devote particular amounts of time to each activity.  Evidence for this comes from Stein and D’Amico’s study of nine teachers in three schools (1998).  As mentioned above, teachers in one school implemented a literacy program that was very similar to that recommended by the district while teachers in another school scheduled guided reading and shared reading on a regular basis and, consistent with district guidelines, focused much more on reading activities than writing.

            In sum, teacher networks in California and instructional consulting services and intervisitation in District 2 are based on better understandings of teacher learning than traditional approaches and have positively influenced teachers’ knowledge, skills, and dispositions; aspects of professional community; and, in the case of District 2, program coherence.  At the same time, these new approaches haven’t progressed to the point where they view teacher learning as being closely related to the development of the organizational capacity of the school.  In the next section, other policies are considered that influence professional development, namely, student performance assessment systems and school improvement plans.

 

III.       Other Ways That Districts and States Influence Professional Development and School Capacity

 

A.        State Standards and Assessments

 

            In the early-1990s, Kentucky, Maryland, and a few other states developed innovative assessment systems that measured student achievement in relation to performance standards and featured assessment methods other than multiple-choice questions.  Kentucky’s assessments (the Kentucky Instructional Results and Information System - KIRIS) were first administered in 1991-92 in grades four, eight, and twelve in reading, writing, mathematics, science, social studies, arts and humanities, and practical living/vocational studies.  The assessments feature short answer, essay, and multiple-choice questions; performance events; and portfolios (in writing and math).  The Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP), first implemented in 1990-91, includes assessments in reading, writing, math, science, social studies, and language administered in grades three, five, and eight.  Maryland’s assessments consist entirely of open-response questions. 

            KIRIS and MSPAP are designed to increase teachers’ emphasis on communication, problem-solving, and higher-order thinking skills, and decrease their emphasis on lecturing and engaging students in rote tasks. In recent years, several researchers have studied the impact of these assessments on teachers’ instructional practices and expectations for students, as well as the nature of the professional development activities associated with them.  After reviewing research on the impact of the assessments on teachers’ abilities, this section examines the potential influence of professional development related to the assessments on collaboration and shared commitment.  The potential impact of professional development on reflective inquiry, teacher empowerment, and program coherence is not discussed here because the studies reviewed did not address these issues.

 

 

Influence on Teachers’ Knowledge, Skills, and Dispositions

 

            Through surveys, interviews, and classroom observations, researchers have found that both KIRIS and MSPAP have led to meaningful curricular and pedagogical changes.  In a 1994 survey of 216 fourth- and eighth-grade teachers and 115 principals from throughout Kentucky, Koretz and colleagues (1996a) found that 97 percent of fourth-grade teachers indicated they had increased their emphasis on writing for a variety of purposes.  In addition, approximately 40 percent reported focusing more on literary comprehension and analyzing and evaluating texts, and decreasing their emphasis on spelling, punctuation, and grammar (Koretz et al., 1996a).  In math, more than 80 percent of fourth-grade teachers reported an increase in emphasis on communication and problem-solving using meaningful tasks, and 65 percent indicated they were focusing more on application.  Meanwhile, 42 percent reported a decrease in emphasis on number facts and computation (Koretz et al., 1996a).  

            In a 1994 survey of 410 elementary, middle, and high school teachers in Jefferson County, Clifford (1995) also found that many teachers reported making significant changes in their practices.  Over 86 percent of the teachers indicated their use of open-ended questions and writing assignments had increased over the previous three years; and about 70 percent reported allocating more time to problem-solving, inquiry, and group projects.  In addition, 51 percent indicated that they lectured less often than previously (Clifford, 1995). 

In a study of 13 schools in four rural Kentucky districts, researchers from the Appalachian Educational Laboratory (AEL) examined the impact of KIRIS on instructional practices in fourth-, fifth-, and eighth-grade classrooms (1994).  Based on observations in 73 classrooms and interviews with 37 teachers and 13 principals, they found that the most salient effect of KIRIS was an increased emphasis on writing and the writing process (1994).  Their study also revealed widespread use of the following instructional strategies: “traditional and nontraditional uses of textbooks and worksheets, group work, hands-on activities, and use of authentic literature to teach reading” (AEL, 1994, p.2).

            With regard to MSPAP, Koretz et al. (1996b) surveyed 226 fifth- and eighth-grade teachers during 1994-95 to learn about the impact of the assessments on their practices.  Almost 90 percent of fifth-grade teachers reported increasing their emphasis on writing for a variety of purposes while 67 percent indicated spending more time on analyzing and evaluating texts and about 50 percent reported focusing more on literary comprehension (Koretz et al., 1996b).  In math, approximately 80 percent of the teachers indicated they were spending more time on communication, problem-solving, and application (Koretz et al., 1996b).  At the same time, 44 percent reported decreasing their emphasis on number facts and computation (Koretz et al., 1996b). 

In a qualitative study of 23 teachers from two districts in Maryland, Firestone, Mayrowetz, and Fairman found that 15 of the teachers “could describe changes in their teaching made to accommodate” MSPAP (1998, p.103).  These changes typically involved the implementation of test-preparation activities, though, and were rarely accompanied by more significant changes in instructional practice.  During a series of classroom observations, for example, the researchers found that teachers spent 84 percent of the time having students solve routine problems in which they repeatedly used one of a small number of procedures.  In contrast, students spent only 16 percent of the time applying procedures to new situations, which they are often required to do on MSPAP, or inventing new procedures and analyzing new situations (Firestone, Mayrowetz, & Fairman, 1998).

In another study, Almasi and colleagues examined the influence of MSPAP on changes in literacy instruction at five highly-innovative elementary schools (Almasi et al., 1995).  In interviews with teams of third- and fifth-grade teachers as well as administrators from each school, “all individuals within each school reported that the nature of instructional tasks designed for students and the instructional methods used by teachers have changed as a result of MSPAP” (Almasi et al., 1995, p.17).  At all five schools, there was more of an emphasis on authentic literature than on basal readers, students were doing much more writing than previously, and writing had been integrated with other subjects.  These findings may not generalize to other Maryland elementary schools, though, because the schools in the study were “deliberately selected as exemplars of instructional change” (Almasi et al., 1995, p.36). 

In a third study, Goldberg and Roswell (1998) surveyed approximately 50 teacher-scorers in the Charles County school district to ascertain the impact of participating in MSPAP scoring sessions on their instructional and assessment practices.  After scoring, teachers rated their knowledge of performance instruction and performance assessment much higher (3.6 on a 5-point scale) than prior to scoring (2.7).  In addition, they predicted that their use of performance-based instructional activities (3.7) and performance assessments (3.6) would increase from the levels they reported prior to scoring (2.9 and 2.7, respectively) (Goldberg & Roswell, 1998).

These studies provide evidence that many teachers in Kentucky and Maryland have made significant curricular and pedagogical changes as a result of KIRIS and MSPAP.  Such changes may not represent professional learning, though.  Instead, they may simply be due to teachers aligning instruction with the demands of the new assessment systems.  Consequently, it is difficult to make inferences from these studies about the impact on teachers’ abilities of professional development related to the assessments.

            Koretz et al. (1996a, 1996b) also examined the influence of MSPAP and KIRIS on teachers’ expectations.  In Maryland, 63 percent of fifth-grade teachers and 48 percent of eighth-grade teachers reported that their expectations for students had increased (Koretz et al., 1996b).  Far more teachers indicated, though, that their expectations for high-achieving students had increased (36 percent) than for average-achieving (19 percent), low-achieving (15 percent), or special education students (18 percent) (Koretz et al., 1996b). 

            In Kentucky, the results were similar: more than 50 percent of teachers indicated that their expectations had increased for students, but more teachers reported that their expectations had greatly increased for high-achieving students (24 percent) than for average-achieving (20 percent), low-achieving (18 percent), and special education (14 percent) students (Koretz et al., 1996a).  In both studies, the researchers note that the fact that more teachers report increased expectations for high-achieving students than for other students may pose a threat to equity (Koretz et al., 1996a, 1996b).  They also correctly observe, though, that “(e)xpectations are only one aspect of equity” and further research “would be needed to determine whether teachers’ perceptions of changes in expectations are mirrored by changes in actual opportunities to learn” (Koretz et al., 1996b).

 

Influence on Professional Community

 

            Researchers have also examined the nature of professional development activities associated with KIRIS and MSPAP.  In Kentucky, some studies have found that teachers had few opportunities to collaborate with colleagues as they attempted to change their practices in accordance with the new assessments.  In a study of three districts, Keane (1995) conducted focus groups with groups of eighth- and twelfth-grade teachers from each district.  In some of the interviews, teachers indicated that lack of time prevented them from meeting with colleagues to plan or share new instructional strategies.  According to Keane, “(A)ll the groups interviewed implied a need for a system in which teachers could plan together and, in some cases, teach together in order to connect lessons across disciplines and garner support from their colleagues” (1995, p.163).  Similarly, in their study of 13 schools, AEL researchers also found little evidence of schoolwide instructional planning (1994).

            Other researchers found that professional development activities associated with KIRIS generally provided teachers with few opportunities to engage in reflective inquiry.  To examine the nature of professional development in Kentucky, McDiarmid and Kelly (1997) visited 21 schools throughout the state and surveyed teachers and principals at 77 other schools.  They found that most professional development activities were designed to help teachers prepare students for the new assessments.  Only rarely did these activities “focus directly on teachers’ understanding of the topics and procedures they were to help their pupils learn” (McDiarmid and Kelly, 1997, p.16).  Guskey and Oldham also observe that “pressure for immediate improvement in scores has prompted many schools to develop professional development programs that focus narrowly on the particular assessment formats and scoring procedures” that comprise KIRIS (1997, p.433).

            While research in Kentucky provided little evidence that teachers had opportunities to collaborate in implementing KIRIS, Koretz et al. found that 85 percent of the teachers surveyed in Maryland reported working “with their colleagues in preparation for MSPAP” (1996b, p.21).  In addition, Firestone, Mayrowetz, and Fairman reported that six of the 15 teachers from Maryland in their study found “their in-service days or other scheduled meetings during the year” to be “useful for developing or exchanging MSPAP activities” (1998, p.109).  There is little information in these studies, though, about the nature of such collaborative efforts.  In fact, it may be that collaboration among teachers in Maryland has little impact on their knowledge or instructional practices, other than helping them learn to prepare students for the assessments.

            Another important aspect of professional community is developing a shared commitment among faculty in individual schools to improving instructional practice and student achievement. In their study, Koretz et al. (1996b) found that many teachers in Maryland reported morale to be low in their schools.  Over 70 percent “disagreed with the following statement about their school, ‘Teacher morale is high,’ and 57 percent responded that MSPAP has led to a decrease in morale in their school” (Koretz et al, 1996b, p.24).  While teacher morale and shared commitment are different concepts, it is likely that low teacher morale weakens efforts to establish and maintain shared commitment.  In particular, when individual teachers feel negatively about their work environment, they may be less likely to come together as group to try to improve their school as a whole.

 

B.        School Improvement Plans

 

            A number of districts and states require schools to develop school improvement (SI) plans in which staff review achievement data, establish goals regarding student achievement, and identify strategies for meeting the goals.  In such jurisdictions, professional development associated with the SI plans can enhance teachers’ knowledge, skills, and dispositions; professional community; and program coherence within individual schools.  This section reviews research on the implementation of SI plans in three districts in South Carolina (Jennings & Spillane, 1996) as well as research on efforts in Chicago to decentralize power and authority within schools (Bryk et al., 1998).  SI plans played an important role in Chicago’s reform efforts and while Bryk and his colleagues did not focus specifically on such plans, it is possible to make inferences based on their findings about the effect of these plans on school capacity.  In particular, the results from both of these studies suggest that SI plans are more likely to promote the development of school capacity when principals and teachers are trained in appropriate planning procedures, when principals are willing to share decision making with teachers, and when schools have authority over hiring personnel.

            In 1993, the legislature in South Carolina passed Act 135, which mandated that each school in the state develop a comprehensive plan for school improvement.  Plans were required to include a mission statement describing the school’s goals; a list of beliefs about teaching and learning; specific outcomes delineating what students had to achieve before graduating; and strategies for improving the school’s performance.  In order to make school decision making more inclusive, the regulations accompanying the act required that school planning committees include teachers, parents, and community members, as well as administrators (Jennings & Spillane, 1996).  Further, a significant amount of state professional development funds were allocated for training administrators and teachers in participatory decision-making procedures.

            In 1988, the Illinois legislature enacted Public Act 85-1418, which was designed to replace centralized bureaucratic control in the Chicago public school system with more local decision making.  PA 85-1418 required schools “to develop three-year improvement plans, evaluated and updated annually, to assure progress toward both local and legislatively mandated goals” (Bryk et al., 1998, p.27).  The Act created Local School Councils (LSCs) for each school consisting of six elected parents, two elected community members, two appointed teachers, and the principal.  The LSCs were granted authority to hire and fire the principal, and were required to approve the annual school budget. Professional Personnel Advisory Committees (PPACs), composed of teachers, were also established in each school to serve in an advisory role on school decisions regarding curriculum and instruction.  For their part, principals acquired more control over their budgets, personnel, and building facilities although their lifetime tenure was replaced with four-year contracts subject to LSC review. 

 

Influence on Teachers’ Knowledge, Skills, and Dispositions

 

Jennings and Spillane (1996) studied the processes that four elementary schools in South Carolina went through in developing and implementing their SI plans.  Two of the schools were located in a large, urban district while the others were in small, rural districts.  All four served high percentages of low-income students.  Their research indicates that professional development related to schools’ SI plans had varying effects on teachers’ knowledge, skills, and expectations for students.  At Forest School, located in the urban district, teachers learned about innovative instructional ideas through regular work with external consultants at the school and by taking courses together at a local university.  Further, the principal and many of the teachers believed that all of their students were capable of critical thinking, problem-solving, and conceptual understanding.  In contrast, the principal at Butler School, one of the rural schools, did not feel that all students were likely to achieve advanced learning goals.  Instead, he believed that teachers should focus on helping students acquire basic literacy and numeracy skills, a conviction that was shared by many of the staff.

In Chicago, Bryk et al. (1998) initially conducted case studies of how 22 elementary schools responded to Act 85-1418.  This research revealed that each school was engaged in one of four distinct patterns of organizational change: a focus on environmental order, peripheral academic changes, a “Christmas tree” approach in which an abundance of programs are implemented, or emergent restructuring involving a systemic approach to school improvement. Based on surveys of teachers and principals, the researchers estimated that during the early years of reform, 35 to 41 percent of Chicago elementary schools were engaged in emergent restructuring featuring a systemic approach.  To varying degrees, the rest of the schools followed unfocused approaches. 

Bryk et al. (1998) found that some of the emergent restructuring schools had used professional development to enhance teachers’ knowledge, skills, and dispositions.  At Bella School, for example, the principal focused on improving writing instruction and used discretionary funds to create a position for an instructional supervisor in writing.  The supervisor “mentored teachers in their classrooms, encouraged peer observation, facilitated faculty conversations about teaching and learning, and worked with each teacher regarding assessment of students’ progress” (Bryk et al., 1998, p.118).  As a result, many teachers at Bella acquired new knowledge and skills for teaching writing, and their expectations for students’ work were raised.

 

Influence on Professional Community

 

            Based on Jennings and Spillane’s research, professional development related to the SI plan process appeared to strengthen several aspects of professional community in the urban schools, but had little impact on professional community in the rural schools.  The influence of professional development on professional community seemed closely related to whether administrators in the various districts were disposed to share decision making with teachers and others.  The urban district placed great emphasis on involving teachers, parents, and community members in the SI planning process.  Several months were devoted to “training staff members in the participatory management process advocated by the state so that they would be prepared to work on planning committees” (Jennings and Spillane, 1997, p.6).  Principals were not permitted to chair the planning committees at their schools and while central office staff were assigned to assist schools in developing their plans, they were directed not to lead discussions or vote on issues. 

Consistent with the district’s guidelines, the principal at Forest School did not attempt to control the SI planning process; instead, she encouraged teachers to be actively involved in this process and related activities, which contributed to shared goals, collaboration, and empowerment.  Following Act 135’s passage, a group of teachers at Forest worked for a year to develop four learner standards for their school as well as strategies for attaining them.  During this time, the group sought input from the rest of the staff and actively worked to enlist their support.  As a result, “more and more of the teachers at Forest began to feel that they (had) a genuine role to play in making decisions for their school” (Jennings and Spillane, 1997, p.7).  The four standards were featured in the school’s SI plan and each teacher joined one of four cadres to work on one of them.  The cadres provided staff with “opportunities to discuss curriculum and instruction with each other as well as develop action plans for schoolwide implementation” (Jennings and Spillane, 1997, p.14).

            Unlike their counterpart at Forest, the principals at the rural schools did not seek or make substantive use of teacher input in developing their SI plans.  As a result, the planning process at their schools did little to promote shared goals or empowerment among the staff.  The principal at Browning, one of the rural schools, created a committee of teachers and community members to provide feedback during the planning process, but found that the committee wasn’t much help to him.  As a result, he developed the plan himself.  At the other rural school, Butler, the principal organized a day-long meeting of teachers and parents to finalize the SI plan after he had already developed much of it independently.  At both schools, Jennings and Spillane (1997) found that the principals frequently made decisions about curricular and budgetary decisions on their own.

            The initial case studies of the 22 Chicago elementary schools revealed that each school had a distinctive local politics based on the interactions among the major sites of power at the school – the principal, the school faculty, and the LSC.  Some of the schools were characterized by strong democracy while others featured consolidated principal power or adversarial politics.  The researchers then identified noteworthy features that distinguished among these three categories.  These features included the nature of principal leadership, the extent of collective faculty activity, the degree to which the LSC was active, and the nature of conflict at the school (Bryk et al., 1998).   Based on surveys of teachers and principals and additional case studies, the researchers estimated that 37 to 44 percent of Chicago elementary schools were characterized by consolidated principal power; 28 to 34 percent were strong democracy schools; 18 to 26 percent were in a mixed category – either had maintenance politics or were in a transition between consolidated power and strong democracy; and four to nine percent had adversarial politics.

            Bryk et al. (1998) found that principals in the strong democracy schools were much more likely than their counterparts in the consolidated power schools to support the involvement of teachers and parents in the decision-making process, which contributed to empowerment.  At Thomas School, for example, a large group of regular-classroom and bilingual teachers worked together to create the school’s SI plan, and the principal and several teachers “actively reached out to parents” (Bryk et al., 1998, p.63).  In contrast, the principal at Howard School provided little support to the LSC and PPAC, and often made unilateral decisions about how to spend the school’s discretionary funds.  Strong democracy schools were also characterized by more collective faculty activity than consolidated power schools.  At Bella School, the principal allocated time for teachers to work collaboratively and reflect on their practice as they implemented a new approach to literacy instruction.  At Alexander School, on the other hand, the teachers were unable to organize a PPAC and “showed little interest in their own growth as professionals” (Bryk et al., 1998, p.56).

            Based on in-depth research at six actively restructuring schools, Bryk et al. found that changes at these schools contributed to shared goals, collaboration, and empowerment.  The principals at these schools established high expectations for teacher performance, and “(t)hose who fell short and were either unwilling or unable to improve were encouraged to leave” (Bryk et al., 1998. p.234).  As a result, more than 40 percent of the faculty at five of the six schools were replaced during the first four years of reform (1989-1993).  Because the newly-hired teachers usually embraced the school’s mission and goals, teacher leaders at these schools began to enjoy more support from their colleagues and “a genuine collective responsibility for change grew among” their faculties (Bryk et al., 1998. p.234).  

            The principals at the six restructuring schools also created time for teachers to meet and strongly encouraged them to collaborate.  At Hoynes School, for example, the principal frequently visited teachers’ classrooms and many teachers observed each other.  In addition, the school used some of its discretionary funds to extend school hours and compensate teachers for meeting after school.  Finally, the six principals shared a significant amount of decision-making responsibility with teachers.  The PPAC, though, “was not the primary vehicle through which teachers voiced their views in any of these schools” (Bryk et al., 1998. p.237).  Instead, the teachers at each school developed governance structures that were appropriate to their own circumstances. 

           

Influence on Program Coherence

 

            As mentioned above, Bryk et al. found that 35 to 41 percent of the elementary schools in Chicago took a systemic approach to school improvement.  This does not mean, though, that the programs for students and teachers at all of these schools were focused and sustained.  Among the six actively restructuring schools, the researchers found some instances of faculty-wide professional development.  At Spry School, for example, several teachers participated as a group in the Illinois Writing Project in a sustained effort to implement writing across the curriculum.  Teachers at Ebinger School were among the first to participate in professional development - designed to help them integrate mathematics and science instruction - that was offered by the Teachers’ Academy for Math and Science (Bryk et al, 1998).  Bryk et al. concluded, though, that “intensive faculty-wide efforts such as these were more the exception than the norm, even in these six schools” (1998, p.233).

            In South Carolina, the SI plan process was designed to promote program coherence by having schools focus on a clear set of goals and strategies for attaining them over time.  At Forest, the development of learner standards and strategies for attaining them probably contributed to coherence by providing a focus for professional development.  With regard to the other schools, it is not possible from the available data to determine whether the SI plan process promoted coherence.

IV.       Policy Guidelines and the Role of Individual Schools         

 

            In recent years, several researchers have called for professional development to be reformed based on new understandings of teacher learning (Little, 1993; Corcoran, 1995; Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin, 1996).  Many of the policies and programs reviewed above reflect these new conceptions of professional development and promote various aspects of school capacity.  The teacher networks in California, for example, reflect the knowledge base on teaching and provide opportunities for participants to increase their content knowledge, collaborate with peers, and engage in reflective inquiry.  District 2’s use of consultants takes account of the contexts in which teachers work, provides them with sufficient time and follow-up support, engages them in collaboration, and promotes program coherence.  Finally, in some cases, the implementation of SI plans in South Carolina and Chicago takes account of the contexts in which teachers work, is linked to school initiatives, and leads to shared goals, collaboration, and teacher empowerment.

            While these approaches to professional development are based on better understandings of teacher learning than traditional workshops and in-services, they don’t view such learning as being closely related to the development of school capacity.  Initial findings from a continuing study of professional development and school capacity (King & Newmann, 1999) provide some support for the notion that building capacity leads to improved student achievement.  To the extent that further research confirms these findings, it will be important for professional development to be focused on school capacity.  In order to increase the likelihood that professional development will address capacity, states and districts should consider the following policy guidelines:

1. Professional development strategies should reflect a conception of school capacity and should help teachers learn to actively address aspects of capacity in their schools.  While the California Subject Matter Projects helped accomplished teachers develop leadership skills and enabled them to acquire content knowledge, collaborate with peers, and reflect on their practice, they appear to have had little impact on whether these teachers were involved in establishing shared goals or making important decisions at their schools.  This may have resulted from the fact that the conception of teacher leadership underlying the CSMPs did not involve training teachers to address school capacity.  By contrast, after the urban South Carolina district trained teachers in a participatory management process, many of them became actively involved in developing SI plans, which potentially contributed to professional community in their schools.

            2. Professional development strategies must achieve a balance between promoting coherence within and providing autonomy to individual schools.  Districts can promote internal school coherence by requiring schools to focus professional development on one content area or one schoolwide reform model for an extended period.  At the same time, they must provide opportunities for faculties to participate in making meaningful decisions.  District 2’s approach to professional development provides some autonomy to schools, but teachers in some schools may not be involved in creating school site plans.  When teachers have little role in developing these plans, school capacity is unlikely to be enhanced.

            3. States and districts should be mindful of how reform initiatives are likely to influence the nature of teachers’ learning experiences.  After KIRIS was implemented in Kentucky in the early-1990s, for example, most professional development activities instructed teachers on how to prepare students for the new assessments.  At the same time, though, teachers had few opportunities to engage in reflective inquiry or deepen their understanding of the topics and procedures their students were expected to learn.  Policy makers also need to consider how efforts to reform professional development will be affected by existing policy and practice.  Educators frequently “witness policy collisions between present reforms and their predecessors, many still reflected in statute, regulation, policy, and local habit” (Little, 1993, p.140).  In California, while the subject matter projects were designed to promote student-centered teaching and constructivist learning, participants with more experience using traditional pedagogical approaches often questioned the value of or resisted constructivist programs.

            It should be noted that even policies and programs based on these guidelines cannot ensure improvements in student performance.  In fact, schools themselves play an important role in determining whether professional development strengthens school capacity and leads to increased student achievement. In Chicago, for example, the principals in strong democracy schools encouraged teachers to participate in the decision-making process and created time for them to collaborate and reflect on their practice.  In contrast, the principals in consolidated power schools made most decisions on their own and took few steps to foster professional community.  Similarly, the principal at the Forest School in the urban South Carolina district promoted shared goals, collaboration, and empowerment by involving teachers in the SI planning process while her counterparts in the rural schools did not solicit or make use of teacher input in creating their improvement plans.  Without strong facilitative principal leadership, even well-designed professional development strategies that address each aspect of school capacity are unlikely to result in sustained improvements in student performance.

 

V.                 Conclusion

 

There is a growing recognition among educators and policy makers that teachers must have extensive opportunities to participate in professional development in order for school reform efforts to succeed.  While traditional approaches to professional development have generally had little influence on teachers’ knowledge, skills, and dispositions, several states and districts have implemented innovative programs that place teachers in a more active learning role, take account of the contexts in which they work, and provide sustained follow-up support as they attempt to make changes in their practices.  These new approaches - which include teacher networks, the use of consultants, and intervisitation - have the potential to significantly augment the abilities of individual teachers.  It is also important, though, to consider whether they are likely to have a positive impact on the practices of entire faculties and the coherence of school programs over time.  By employing a conception of school capacity in reviewing research on these approaches and related reforms, this paper suggests that capacity can be a useful lens in assessing the potential impact of state and district professional development efforts on professional community and program coherence.


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[1] A number of studies, including the research reviewed in this paper, have examined the influence of professional development activities on individual dimensions of school capacity.  There is virtually no research, though, that has looked at the influence of such activities on all three dimensions of capacity – teachers’ knowledge, skills, and dispositions; professional community; and program coherence.