Professional Development of Mathematics and Science Teachers
- New Teacher Induction
- Ongoing Professional Development
- Teacher Assessment of Professional Development
- Teacher Priorities for Professional Development
Teacher professional development is a major component of current reform policies (Cohen and Hill 2001; Darling-Hammond 2005; Hirsch, Koppich, and Knapp 2001; Little 1993) (see sidebar "State Professional Development Policies for Teachers"). To help all students meet the high educational standards necessary to participate in the global workforce, today's teachers are being called on to provide their students with a high-quality education and to teach in ways they have never taught before. The nature and magnitude of changes demanded by these reform policies require a great deal of learning on the part of teachers. Ongoing professional development provides a vehicle for teachers to gain such learning (NCTAF 1997; NRC 2007). Research has demonstrated that sustained and intensive participation in high-quality professional development can change teacher attitudes, behaviors, and the instructional practices they use in the classroom (Banilower et al. 2005; Garet et al. 2001; Guskey 2003; Hawley and Valli 2001; Porter et al. 2000). Furthermore, student learning increased when their teachers changed in these ways (Cohen and Hill 2000; Desimone et al. 2002; Holland 2005; Wenglinsky 2002).
This section examines several indicators of teacher professional development, including new teacher induction; features of teacher participation in professional development (i.e., content, duration, format, and extent of collaboration); teacher assessments of the usefulness of professional development activities; and their priorities for future activities. These indicators help determine the extent to which effective features of professional development exist at the national level.
New Teacher Induction
Research suggests that teachers with less experience, particularly those in their first year of teaching, are less effective in the classroom (Murnane and Phillips 1981). Without sufficient support and guidance, novice teachers may reduce their commitment to teaching and may leave the profession altogether (Smith and Ingersoll 2004; Smith and Rowley 2005). Teacher induction programs are designed at the school, local, or state level to assist and support beginning teachers in their first few years of teaching (Fulton, Yoon, and Lee 2005). The purpose is to help new teachers improve professional practice, deepen their understanding of teaching, and prevent early attrition (Britton et al. 2003; Smith and Ingersoll 2004). One key component of such programs is that new teachers are paired with mentors or other experienced teachers to receive advice, instruction, and support.
Participation in induction and mentoring programs has been fairly common and has become more so in recent years. In 2003, 68%–72% of beginning mathematics and science teachers in public middle and high schools reported that they had participated in a formal teacher induction program or had worked closely with a mentor teacher during their first year of teaching
Ongoing Professional Development
Almost all teachers participate in some form of professional development activities every school year (Choy, Chen, and Bugarin 2006; Scotchmer, McGrath, and Coder 2005). It is important not only to make professional development accessible to teachers, but also to identify features that bring about positive changes in teaching practices and student learning and to build these features into the activities (Elmore 2002; Garet et al. 2001; Guskey 2003; Hawley and Valli 2001; Loucks-Horsley et al. 2003). Recognizing this new need, the education research community began to develop a knowledge base of what constitutes effective professional development programs. Several key features have been identified that are linked to positive change in teacher knowledge and instructional practices, including content focusing on teacher subject-matter knowledge or how students learn the subject content; programs of long and sustained duration (recent research suggests at least 80 hours); program content integrated into teachers' daily work, rather than removed from the context of direct teaching (as in traditional workshops); and emphasis on a team approach and collaboration among teachers (Banilower et al. 2005; Clewell et al. 2004; Cohen and Hill 2000; Desimone et al. 2002; Garet et al. 2001; Porter et al. 2000). The following indicators examine the extent to which public middle and high school mathematics and science teachers participated in professional development that had these characteristics.
Professional development activities tend to focus on a few topics and teaching skills, frequently on the teacher's main teaching subject. In 2003, more than 70% of mathematics, science, and other subject-area teachers in public middle and high schools reported participation in professional development that focused on the content of the subjects they taught
Participation rates varied across schools. Mathematics and science teachers who taught in high-minority and high-poverty schools were more likely than those in low-minority and low-poverty schools to report receiving professional development on subject matter and on student discipline and classroom management
Recent research emphasizes intensive participation as a critical feature of effective professional development. Teachers are likely to benefit more from professional development programs that are sustained over an extended period of time and involve a significant number of hours. Some studies recommend at least 60–80 hours to bring about meaningful change in teaching practice (Banilower et al. 2005; Supovitz and Turner 2000; Weiss, Banilower, and Shimkus 2004). However, few teachers participated in professional development programs for this amount of time. In 2003, between 4% and 28% of mathematics and science teachers in public middle and high schools reported attending professional development on various topics for 33 or more hours over the course of a school year
The format of professional development refers to the way in which a professional development activity is delivered. For many years, teacher professional development has been primarily through district- or school-sponsored workshops, conferences, and training sessions (Choy and Chen 1998; Choy, Chen, and Bugarin 2006; Parsad, Lewis, and Farris 2001). In 2003, more than 90% of public middle and high school mathematics, science, and other subject-area teachers participated in professional development through workshops, conferences, and training sessions
Collaborative participation, which involves professional development designed for groups of teachers from the same school, department, and grade level, fosters cooperation and interaction among teachers (Garet et al. 2001; Desimone et al. 2002). Two constructs were used here to measure this concept, regularly scheduled collaboration with other teachers on issues of instruction and participation in mentoring, peer observation, or coaching. Based on these measures, teacher collaboration was common. In 2003, about two-thirds of public middle and high school mathematics, science, and other subject-area teachers reported that they had collaborated regularly with other teachers on matters of instruction
Teacher Assessment of Professional Development
Were professional development activities useful to teachers? Teachers' assessments of their professional development activities were generally positive. In 2003, 62%–69% of mathematics, science, and other subject-area teachers in public middle and high schools rated activities on subject content and use of computers for instruction as "useful" or "very useful"
Teachers' assessments were strongly related to the amount of time they spent on these activities. For each topic, the more time teachers spent in professional development, the more likely they were to indicate that it was useful or very useful. This relationship held for mathematics, science, and other subject-area teachers.
Teacher Priorities for Professional Development
In addition to assessing the usefulness of the programs they attended, teachers identified their priorities for future professional development. Public middle and high school mathematics and science teachers rated their main subject field and the use of technology for instruction as their top interest for future professional development
Teachers in different types of schools had different priorities. For example, mathematics and science teachers in high-minority and high-poverty schools were more likely to identify student discipline and classroom management as their top priority, whereas their colleagues in low-minority and low-poverty schools were more likely to pick the content of the main subject field.
Induction and mentoring programs are designed to help new teachers become more effective and stay in teaching. These programs are presently widely implemented in public schools. Teacher participation in professional development was also common. In 2003, for example, more than 70% of public middle and high school mathematics and science teachers reported participation in professional development that focused on the content of the subject matter they taught. However, although recent research has found that intensive participation lasting at least 60–80 hours might be necessary to bring about meaningful change in teaching practice, just 4%–28% of mathematics and science teachers in public middle and high schools attended a professional development program for 33 hours or more over a school year, suggesting that the current amount of time devoted to teacher professional development may not be enough.
The majority of teachers participated in professional development by attending workshops, conferences, and training sessions. Most teachers indicated that the professional development programs in which they participated were useful, especially those that emphasized the content of their subject matter and the use of computers for instruction. Teachers also rated more highly professional development programs that were of longer duration.
 It should be noted that induction programs have great variability in terms of program goals, content, duration, and format. This variability cannot be addressed by using the SASS data.
 Similar results have been reported elsewhere (Choy, Chen, and Bugarin 2006; Scotchmer, McGrath, and Coder 2005). This finding suggests that schools and districts, and perhaps teachers themselves, were attempting to address the needs of teachers in high-minority and high-poverty schools.
 The amount of time teachers devoted to professional development was generally not associated with schools' minority enrollment and poverty levels.
 Teacher participation in various formats of professional development was generally not significantly associated with schools' minority enrollment and poverty levels.
 Teacher participation in these activities was generally not significantly related to schools' minority enrollment and poverty levels.