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Discussion: From Professional Development to Student Outcomes

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posted by: Brian Drayton on March 27, 1998 at 9:06AM
subject: Questions so far --what say you?
This discussion to date has raised some interesting questions about a
complex issue. One is almost compelled to question the assumption that
one can link teacher PD with student outcomes in any clear fashion.
Kathryn Chval makes a case that in their school in Chicago there is a
link between PD and student performance, at least a correlation between
the presence of PD and improved student performance. Others, from Bob
Box to Mark St. John to Kalyani Rahavan, feel unconvinced that one can
make any clear link. As all emphasize, we are confronting such a
complicated system, involving innumerable variables, that it is hard
even to know how to frame the hypotheses.

Kalyani's latest posting, and a few that preceded it, open an
interesting line of thought, though. For example, when she writes about
teacher expectations and their use of questions, it makes me wonder
about our expectations for teachers, in the PD programs that we design,
especially those that are tied to the mastery of specific curriculum
materials, however innovative. As several posts point out, "curriculum
materials don't equal inquiry," and I would argue that they also don't
necessarily equal teacher learning, beyond a limited sense.

What PD practices set high expectations for teachers?

What aspects of teacher knowledge and practice are the keystone points,
the places where if a change happens, it then starts a train of changes
and realignments in a teacher's practice?

How do your innovations conflict/complement the school culture, which
can both support and retard teacher change?

What effect do students' expectations and acculturation have on what
changes teachers feel free to make?

How important is teacher practice in students' learning anyway? How can
we separate the effects of teacher practice, from the effects that may
result from a general change in expectations, conveyed by teachers,
administration, testing agencies, and parents? I am reminded of the old
story of the drunken man who seeks his lost car-keys under the lamp-post
because the light is better there.

It would be most helpful to all of us struggling with these questions to
hear from projects who have incorporated some of their hypotheses on
these questions into their programs -- even if their results aren't in
yet! What are you hoping/expecting to see?
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