Assessing the Status of Professional Learning Opportunities in U.S. Independent Schools
Type of Degreedissertation
Education Foundation, Leadership, and Technology
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Research has begun to create a consensus about the essential characteristics of professional learning opportunities that impact teachers’ knowledge and practices. These key characteristics include duration, teacher collaboration, active learning, a content knowledge focus, and a connection to school goals. A recent national study (Darling-Hammond, Wei, Andree, Richardson, & Orphanos, 2009) found that professional development practices in U.S. public schools do not meet the new standards for effective teacher professional development, but no research exists on professional development practices in U.S. independent schools. For U.S. independent schools to move towards the standards established for effective professional development, information about the status of teacher learning in independent schools is needed. The present study addressed this problem by conducting a national survey of independent schools to assess the extent to which professional development opportunities in independent schools are aligned with research findings about effective professional development. This study is reported in manuscript format, with one manuscript examining the development and psychometric properties of the survey used in this study, a second manuscript discussing the data showing a significant gap between research-based principles of effective teacher learning and the current professional development programs of U.S. independent schools, and a third manuscript examining the differences in professional development practices across divisions and professional development budget sizes. Results indicated that a large gap exists between current professional development practices in U.S. independent schools and research-based best practices of effective professional development, with independent schools continuing to rely upon ineffective conventional approaches such as workshops, speakers and conferences. Further, results indicated that this gap is consistent across independent schools with different professional development budgets but does differ across independent school divisions with the gap being larger in upper school and middle school divisions than lower school divisions. The findings of this study highlight the need for independent school leaders and teachers to take action to close the gap between current practices and the effective professional learning practices supported by over a decade of research (Desimone, 2009; Supovitz & Turner, 2000). Now that accurate information about what is happening regarding independent school professional learning is available, independent school leaders must move to examining why it is happening and how independent schools can move closer to the standards established for effective professional development.