Recommended Guidelines for Successful Implementation
It stands to reason that proficient teachers are poised to make a positive contribution to the learning environment. The more educated, prepared and confident a teacher can be when entering the classroom, the more the students too can benefit. The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future issued a report in 1996 entitled: "What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future." The crux of the report was based on three simple ideas:
What teachers know and do is the most important influence on what students learn."
Recruiting, preparing and retaining good teachers is the central strategy for improving our schools.
School reform cannot succeed unless it focuses on creating the conditions in which teachers can teach, and teach well.
These simplistic statements cannot be understated. The teacher is the conduit for student learning; teachers are the electrical charge that powers the mental machinery, they are the front line to education. If the teacher is ill equipped, students will be the recipients of his or her inability. According to Linda Darling-Hammond, educator and Executive Director of NCTAF, "At its root, achieving high levels of student understanding requires immensely skillful teaching -- and schools that are organized to support teachers' continuous learning." (HTSB, 2003)
Staff Development: An Overview
In an essay entitled "What Matters Most," the author asserts: "If teachers are to be prepared to help their students meet the new standards being set for them, teacher preparation and professional development programs must consciously examine the expectations embodied in new curriculum frameworks and assessments and understand what they imply for teaching and for learning to teach. Then they must develop strategies that effectively help teachers learn to teach in these much more demanding ways." (National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 1996).
The National Staff Development Council (NSDC) is a nonprofit educational association with 8,000 members. The Council's mission is directed at ensuring high levels of learning and performance for all students and staff members. NSDC regards high quality staff development as essential in creating schools in which all students and staff members are successful. (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2003)
According to Dennis Sparks, Executive Director of the National Staff Development Council, in A New Vision for Staff Development, a report of the National Staff Development Council and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, professional development is "a means to an end rather than an end in itself; it helps educators close the gap between current practices and the practices needed to achieve the desired outcomes. This comprehensive approach to change assures that all aspects of the system -- for example, policy, assessment, curriculum, instruction, parent involvement -- are working together with staff development toward the achievement of a manageable set of student outcomes that the entire system values."
How exactly do we make the connection between staff development and student progress? And having established such a connection, where do we currently stand? It may be prudent to answer the first question by first understanding the answers to the second one. What Matters Most has developed a state-by-state report card that measures elements of teacher proficiency such as the percentage of unqualified hires, the percentage of out of field teaching, the number of teachers as a percentage of staff, the percentage holding professional accreditation and so on. In addition, the report assesses by state the number of public high school teachers who taught one or more classes without at least holding a minor in that field. So where do we stand? Do these snapshots tell us how educated our teachers are?
State Standards for Staff Development
What they do tell us is how the individual states score based on the quality indicators put forth in the study. The states scoring the highest include Minnesota (7), Kentucky (6), Iowa (5). The remainder of the states scored 4 or below on a scale from zero to ten. The data indicates that there is room for improvement across the board.
More specifically, when looking at the percent of teachers who lack a minor in their subject field, we can see that the individual states vary widely. The average of all states yields 26.24% of teachers, or just over one fourth nationally, who are teaching a topical subject without holding at least a minor in educational background of that topic. The states with the highest percent of teachers lacking topical minors are, respectively, Alaska (63%), California (51%), and Hawaii (51%). All other states fell under the 50% mark. The states with the lowest percentage of teachers without minors were Delaware, the District of Columbia, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, all with zero.
According to the "What Matters Most" report, on average 6.8% of states hire unlicensed teachers. Again, the proportion varies widely by state, with the District of Columbia being highest at 53%, followed by Maryland (29%), Lousiana (23%) and Florida (17%). What this data reveals is that there is a gap between addressing teacher development and fulfilling the basic requirements of teaching. Before we can truly address teacher development, we must begin with a pool of teachers who hold the minimum qualifications for teaching in the first place. This must be the basis from which to build upon.
Total Quality Indicators (0-10)
Unqualified Hires (% of unlicensed new hires)
Out-of-Field (% of math teachers w/o a minor or more)
Teachers as a % of Total / staff
Student Teaching (# req'd weeks)
Student Teaching (experience w / diverse learners)
New Teacher Induction (State req'd)
Professional Standards Board
District of Columbia
North Carolina proposed
West Virginia partial
Source: "What Matters Most"
Teachers themselves are interested in improving these statistics. According to the National Federation for the Improvement of Education, 73% of teachers are motivated by their interest in improving student achievement, 55% are aiming to improve their teaching skills, and 34% are seeking a broader knowledge base. According to Joellen Killion, "Some states and districts have been fortunate enough to receive increased time allocations for professional development. Yet, they rarely receive more funding to support staff development opportunities." (Killion, 1999) According to the data contained in "What Matters Most," Incentives for National Board Certification are supported at the state level as follows: fifteen states provide links to licensing, thirteen states provide formal support for professional development, and six states provide financial rewards for board certification. This supports Killion's assertion that financial support is rarely available for staff development opportunities. The following table illustrates this position by state. (A number one constitutes a yes, a zero constitutes a no.)
Incentives for National Board Certification
Link to Licensing
Support for Prof. Development Financial Rewards
District of Columbia
Certainly a challenge exists in developing cohesive professional development initiatives that can be implemented across the board to the 2.4 million teachers who work in 85,000 schools across the nation. In order to begin to assess a task of this magnitude, policymakers at the state level must have a deep understanding of the current system in their respective states. There is presently no consensus regarding best practices for professional development, except for a general agreement that it is beneficial for teachers and students, and is thus a desireable goal. (Corcoran, 1995)
Progressive Trends in Staff Development
Some states, as evidenced by the earlier tables, are implementing changes. However, the majority of states are maintaining the status quo, which consists of professional development being conducted as a course or workshop that is available to teachers multiple times during the course of a year. Yet others release students for a half or a full school day during which teachers participate in "in-school" programs that may or may not directly address professional development needs. The programs may feature topical experts, a panel of representatives from federal or state agencies regarding standards and certification requirements, or trainers offering tips and techniques for classroom management. The level of this activity is often dependent upon district financial resources.
Teachers participating in programs that are funded by state and regional agencies with a categorical focus have greater opportunities for professional development…