By Tom Loveless
Do we know how to improve teaching? I don’t mean tinkering around the edges—making a particular history lesson better or getting an individual teacher to alter his or her instructional strategies—but a lasting, substantive change, one that reshapes the profession. Do we know how to transform bad teachers into adequate teachers? Can we take teachers who are merely adequate and make them good—even outstanding?
Those questions are especially relevant right now. The burden of answering them affirmatively falls on professional development (PD). All levels of government spend a huge amount of money on teachers’ professional development; it’s a mainstay of federal education policy. Expenditures on Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (The Eisenhower Program), mostly devoted to PD, are budgeted at about $2.3 billion in 2014. More than $450 million of i3 grant money spent from 2010-2012 went to PD. Advocates of school reforms that affect teaching and learning inevitably rely on PD to implement their preferred changes. The prominent contemporary example is the Common Core. Advocates of the Common Core are counting on PD to equip teachers with the instructional capacity to actualize the standards.