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Teacher Participation in Content-Focused Professional Development & The Role of State Policy


by Kristie J.R. Phillips, Laura Desimone & Thomas M. Smith — 2011

Background/Context: Recent research has demonstrated the potential for teacher professional development to enhance teacher learning, improve instruction, and increase student achievement. Nevertheless, research examining the relationship between state and local policies and teachers’ participation in professional development is sparse. This connection between policy environments and teacher-based outcomes becomes increasingly important as educational reforms place new demands on teachers. Since professional development is a key mechanism to improving teachers’ instruction and students’ achievement, we address the extent to which state and school policy environments are associated with teachers’ participation in content-focused professional development. We consider such policy environments within the context of both mathematics, a high-stakes subject area, and science, currently a low-stakes subject area.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: In describing state policy environments along several dimensions, we seek to discover which types of policies are more or less influential in moving teachers into the types of professional development that research has shown to be most effective for improved teaching and learning.

Research Design: Using a national sample of high school mathematics and science teachers from the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), we conduct a secondary analysis using a three-level hierarchical linear model (HLM) to predict teachers’ level of participation in different types of professional development. We conduct separate analyses for mathematics (a high-stakes subject area) and for science (currently a low-stakes subject area).

Findings/Results: We find that the policy context at both the school- and state-level is more predictive of teacher participation in effective professional development in a high-stakes subject (mathematics) than a low-stakes subject (science). We also find that the alignment between state standards and assessments is a key attribute of state-level policies that tend to promote teacher participation in content-focused professional development in high-stakes subject areas. Even though state-level policies are important in promoting participation in effective professional development, we find that policy environments are strongest when they are closest to the teacher.

Conclusions/Recommendations: We conclude that both state- and school-level policy environments are associated with teachers taking high-quality professional development, but these findings are most pronounced in high-stakes subject areas. We also find that policies promoting consistency in the form of alignment between standards and assessments are perhaps the most important type of policies that states can adopt to encourage teachers to participate in effective professional development.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 113 Number 11, 2011, p. 2586-2621
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16145, Date Accessed: 12/21/2014 3:50:13 PM

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About the Author
  • Kristie Phillips
    Brigham Young University
    E-mail Author
    PROFESSOR PHILLIPS’ research interests include teacher preparation, school choice, and educational outcomes as functions of social contexts. Her research combines elements of sociological inquiry and education policy to provide a framework for the range of social and academic experiences of students, teachers, and administrators within educational settings.
  • Laura Desimone
    University of Pennsylvania
    E-mail Author
    PROFESSOR DESIMONE’s research focuses on understanding policy effects on teaching and learning, policy implementation, and the improvement of methods for studying policy effects and implementation (e.g., improving the quality of surveys and the appropriate use of multiple methodologies).
  • Thomas Smith
    Vanderbilt University
    E-mail Author
    THOMAS M. SMITH is Associate Professor of Public Policy and Education at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. His research focuses on how policy and organizational context influence teaching and learning. Prior to coming to Vanderbilt in 2001, Dr. Smith accumulated over 10 years of experience conducting and leading research at the National Center for Education Statistics, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the National Science Foundation. Since joining Vanderbilt, he has been Co-PI on 7 research and training grants funded by IES and NSF, including a randomized field trial, two mixed methods longitudinal studies of teacher change, and a statistical analysis of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
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