What should we look for when evaluating professional development programs?
While our analysis has validated many alternative approaches to professional development, we clearly do not support the notion that “anything goes” in mathematics teacher education. On the contrary, we believe that the quality of the professional development offered determines to a great extent whether any reform effort succeeds.
Professional development can be expensive, and resources allocated to it are usually limited. Therefore, it is critically important that consumers, decisionmakers and providers of professional development learn to evaluate the quality of available professional development programs.
Too often, the decisions made about professional development – what to offer, fund or participate in – are based simply on the topic, for example, whether the professional development is on assessment, cooperative learning, technology or high school geometry. In this monograph, we have tried to alert readers to many other aspects of professional development that should be considered when evaluating available programs
To begin evaluating a program, we suggest identifying one’s own needs, priorities and constraints in the larger context of pursuing school mathematics reform. This list should yield a sense of the larger goals against which the focus and the structure of a specific professional development initiative should be evaluated.
Analyzing the main experiences in a professional development program will show its potential to meet one’s goals and needs. Throughout this monograph, we emphasize that certain types of professional development experiences are more conducive than others in addressing certain teacher learning needs. Nevertheless, since our analysis in Chapters 4 through 8 shows how widely these approaches can vary, simply knowing that a program uses case discussions or analyses of student work may not be enough information to evaluate its appropriateness for furthering one’s goals.
How can different constituencies contribute to more effective professional development?
We believe that providing quality professional development is the joint responsibility of the teacher educators who design it, the school administrators who decide what to offer or require for teachers, and the teachers who choose what programs in which to participate. Therefore, we conclude this monograph with suggestions for how each of these groups can promote quality professional development aimed at school mathematics reform.
First, we believe that professional development providers can design more effective professional development initiatives by doing the following:
Developing a rich repertoire of effective professional development experiences and learning to use them appropriately.
Identifying the specific reform goals, needs and constraints of their audience.
Selecting and sequencing appropriate professional development experiences to address the goals, needs and constraints of their audience.
Capitalizing on relevant exemplary materials for teacher educators instead of “reinventing the wheel.”
Second, school and district administrators who decide which programs to offer teachers can contribute to quality professional development by doing the following:
Identifying the main needs for professional development within the larger goal of pursuing school mathematics reform in their school or district and the constraints on providing professional development in their particular context.
Knowing what different kinds of professional development experiences can be expected to achieve and what resources are needed to implement them appropriately.
Maximizing the limited resources available for professional development by using them to fund programs that are most likely to effectively support school mathematics reform and to meet the school/district priorities.
Ensuring that each professional development experience is offered only by providers with the required expertise and qualifications.
Providing adequate resources for a quality implementation of the professional development program selected.
Last, but not least, professional development participants should become critical consumers by doing the following:
Identifying their personal and professional goals and needs within the reform agenda of their school or district.
Developing reasonable expectations about what professional development can and should achieve and about the time and effort required to benefit from it.
Learning to evaluate the quality of a professional development initiative and to determine whether it can meet one’s needs.
If we all do our part in these ways, we can expect to see an increase in high quality professional development opportunities for all mathematics educators.