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Professional Development Schools

The Creation of Professional Development Schools, The Impact of Professional Development Schools, Issues Trends and Controversies

Professional development schools (PDSs) are innovative institutions formed through partnerships between teacher education programs and pre-K–12 schools. Their mission, like that of a teaching hospital in the field of medicine, is complex, consisting of strong professional preparation through intensive clinical experience, enhanced learning opportunities and outcomes for pre-K–12 students, and continuing education and development for experienced professionals. Their strategy for achieving this complex mission is also analogous to that used by teaching hospitals: professional education in the context of practice.

Unique demands are made on partners in a PDS. They are called upon to share responsibility for adult and children's learning, to commit and reallocate their resources to a new setting and new kinds of work, and to be accountable professionally and publicly for outcomes for all participants. Like their medical counterparts in teaching hospitals, PDS partners believe that by working together in these ways, the learning outcomes will be better for teacher candidates, faculty, and students.

Children's learning is at the core of all PDS work. Candidates and school and university faculty engage together in identifying and meeting children's learning needs. It is through this inquiry and implementation process that adult learning occurs and children's needs are met. Research thus becomes a tool for improving outcomes.

PDSs look different than traditional schools with student teachers. The use of alternative staffing patterns that incorporate candidates into instructional teams provides both unique learning opportunities for candidates and release time for school faculty to work as teacher educators that observe, mentor, and assess novice teachers. Faculty are selected and trained for their roles as mentors and supervisors. They meet high standards for professional practice and they uphold high standards for candidates and pre-K–12 students. University faculty spend most of their time in the school setting working with candidates, supporting staff development, engaging in collaborative research with school faculty, and participating in the planning, instruction, and problem-solving activities of the school.

The Creation of Professional Development Schools

Professional development schools grew out of efforts in the 1980s and 1990s to reform teacher education and to restructure schools. The Holmes Group, an organization of the deans of schools of education in research universities committed to the reform of teacher education, recommended in 1990 the creation of professional development schools to provide intensive clinical preparation to teacher candidates and create a bridge between academia and the schools.

At about the same time, school reformers called for students in the nation's schools to learn more and for teachers to teach for understanding. Educators realized that this would require a different kind of teaching and a new approach to teacher preparation. Professional teachers needed to be well prepared in their subject areas, but they also needed clinical experiences to reinforce the desired dimensions of professional practice. This included knowledge-based decision-making, work with colleagues, an orientation to problem solving and inquiry, and accountability for enhanced learning outcomes. PDS partnerships were developed, in part, to create clinical experiences grounded in these values and designed to provide the kinds of learning experiences associated with developing expertise in professional practice.

The second impetus for the creation of professional development schools originated from a desire to bridge the long-standing gap between universities and schools. Educators in both sectors pointed to the distance between research and practice, and to the lack of fit between professional preparation and the real world of schools. University educators believed that teacher education needed to be informed by practice. School faculty sought ways to make university-generated knowledge more accessible to teachers, and PDSs created a needed link between the sectors.

The Impact of Professional Development Schools

Several hundred PDSs have been developed since the Holmes Group recommendations in 1990. The National Network for Education Renewal, organized by John Goodlad, was formed to support these partnerships, and they were endorsed by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future as an approach to quality teacher education. The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association have supported major PDS projects, and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) developed standards and an assessment process for PDS partnerships. In 2001 approximately 30 percent of the 525 institutions accredited by NCATE reported having PDS partnerships. PDS partnerships may involve elementary, middle, and secondary schools in urban, suburban, and rural communities. Public and private universities are involved in PDSs, as are large and small institutions, four- and five-year teacher education programs, and one-year certification or master's degree programs. In 2001 thirty-one states had school/university partnership initiatives supported by various federal higher education grants.

Early research on PDS partnerships consisted mostly of self-reports or case studies. In the late 1990s research on PDS effectiveness began appearing in the literature. Studies conducted in various partnerships using observational data, teacher competency test scores, and teacher attrition data suggest that teacher learning and retention are enhanced in PDS partnership schools. Similarly, studies have begun to indicate that student achievement, using a variety of measures, goes up in PDSs over a period of time.

Issues Trends and Controversies

Standards. In 1996 NCATE initiated a project to develop PDS standards. Working with PDS practitioners, researchers, and policymakers, NCATE developed and field-tested standards in eighteen representative partnerships. The standards were endorsed by NCATE and are being used by many PDS partnerships and several states across the country.

Institutional support. Gaining institutional support can be a challenge for PDS partnerships. It is critical that leaders of universities, schools, and teacher's unions be committed to the innovation. Changes in roles and responsibilities require institutional support and incentives, and often require the removal of cultural and policy barriers. For example, universities must address promotion and tenure requirements, ensuring that they value clinical work and research. Schools, on the other hand, must restructure their programs to include teacher education as part of the responsibility of the school.

Policy issues. PDSs are part of the long-term teacher quality agenda. The standards movement of the 1990s introduced a new level of professional and public accountability to teacher education, and PDS partnerships have a critical role to play in that arena. For PDSs to be sustainable, teacher quality initiatives in teacher testing, licensing, mentoring, and induction must be consistent with the underlying vision of the PDS–teaching as professional practice.

The greatest opportunity for PDS development, however, may occur as states and school districts seek to address a growing teacher shortage. PDSs may be able to provide a viable alternative to placing underprepared individuals in classrooms. When PDSs are established in high-needs schools where shortages are most acutely felt, they can bring cadres of candidates into the school under the expert supervision of university and school faculty members.

Controversies. Because PDS partnerships require major restructuring in both the university and school, they often meet with opposition. The selection of PDS sites, in particular, can be contentious.

PDSs remain somewhat controversial within the teacher education community. The requirement of a full-year internship as part of professional preparation introduces an additional cost to teacher candidates, many of whom are already beginning low-paying careers with significant debt. The added value of the full-year internship in terms of teacher competency and retention is beginning to be documented, and salaried internships or stipends (supported by school districts) may be a way of addressing this issue in the future, particularly in the context of teacher shortages.

In the early part of the twentieth century, the education of doctors, the practice of medicine, and the hospital as an institution were all radically reformed by the creation of a new institution: the teaching hospital. PDSs have the potential for playing a similar role in the preparation of teachers, the practice of teaching, and the school as an institution that supports both professional and pre-K–12 student learning.


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