The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why most professional development for teachers is useless

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There has been a strong reaction to my recent post titled  “A video that shows why teachers are going out of their minds,” which revealed Chicago teachers being led in a professional development session in which they sound like kindergarteners, repeating words in unison. Some commenters on the post defended the practice but most of the comments attacked it, revealing what is well known in the education world: Most professional development (PD) is lousy.

Though professional development for teachers is critical to their development as professionals, a 2013 report on PD by the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education noted that most teachers aren’t given the kind of professional development that would actually help them, and it called the most prevalent model of PD nothing short of “abysmal.” A summary of the report said:

Most teachers only experience traditional, workshop-based professional development, even though research shows it is ineffective. Over 90 percent of teachers participate in workshop-style training sessions during a school year (Darling-Hammond et al., 2009). This stands in stark contrast to teachers’ minimal exposure to other forms of professional development (Darling-Hammond et al., 2009). Despite its prevalence, the workshop model’s track record for changing teachers’ practice and student achievement is abysmal. Short, one-shot workshops often don’t change teacher practice and have no effect on student achievement (Yoon et al, 2007; Bush, 1984).

A summary of the report also noted that:

The reason traditional professional development is ineffective is that it doesn’t support teachers during the stage of learning with the steepest learning curve: implementation. In the same way that riding a bike is more difficult than learning about riding a bike, employing a teaching strategy in the classroom is more difficult than learning the strategy itself. In several case studies, even experienced teachers struggled with a new instructional technique in the beginning (Ermeling, 2010; Joyce and Showers, 1982). In fact, studies have shown it takes, on average, 20 separate instances of practice before a teacher has mastered a new skill, with that number increasing along with the complexity of the skill (Joyce and Showers, 2002).

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has gone so far as to say that the $2.5 billion in federal funds spent annually on professional development is largely a waste:

At the federal level, we spend $2.5 billion a year on professional development. As I go out [and] talk to great teachers around the country, when I ask them “how much is that money improving their job or development,” they either laugh or they cry. They are not feeling it. So as we fight for additional resources, we also have to be honest about that $2.5 billion investment, and the additional two or three billion dollars that states and districts are spending, to see what is necessary to really help teachers master their craft and hone their skills. I think the honest answer is that, in most places, we are not even close.

Check out the video here and look at the some of the comments from the earlier post below.

PGutierrez1: Here’s some additional context – CPS paid big $$ for the presenters (one was from the UK and another from CA) for this “professional development.” For all the brouhaha about funding shortages in CPS, this is a foolhardy waste of valuable time and money. What’s more, anyone with a lick of understanding about how children learn would not use this parrot approach in the classroom.

SharScoThis my friends and students is why I complain about my job sometimes…I am an intelligent, well-educated adult with two masters’ degrees (and the student debt to prove it) and 11 years teaching experience who has traveled and studied abroad extensively, but this video demonstrates how we are all too often treated by leadership at all levels and all those involved in the “school reform” movement like idiot children who can’t tell left from right – it’s insulting, demeaning, and absolutely worthless how “educational experts” who make far more money than I do tell us how to educate….  

mthomasmftI think that this is because PD sessions are planned by administrators, not teachers. Teachers would never plan something like this. Administrators have forgotten what goes on in a classroom.  


 hblainAL: This presenter looks and sounds like she is modeling strategic teaching strategies, this one being choral recitation. It’s scientifically researched based and has been proven to really help Special Education students and English Learners. I’m a teacher, but I also give presentations just like this one. I would model for teachers how to use a strategy like this one with their students. Yes, it looks demeaning, but it’s just a model for teachers to understand how to use it with students. I agree with Larry Ferlazzo: anything can be taken out of context when you’re only given a minute snippet of video.

Note: Teacher Larry Ferlazzo’s entire quote on his blog was this: “Yes, you can make a lot of things look bad taken out of context, but I don’t think a case can be made that this is appropriate for any professional development, or classroom, context….”


1bnthrdntht: So why don’t any of those captive teachers stand up and call out loud what it is – BS? “I’m fed up and I’m not going to take it any more!”


va2009: Strauss discovers that inservice PD can be an insulting waste of time. Hint: it was also an insulting waste of time long before NCLB [No Child Left Behind] came along.


ggirl1: This is only a small part of why I retired asap.

You can see more reaction here.