ued learning and professional growth, and can in turn contribute to improvements in student learning. In a general sense, a great deal is known about the characteristics of such opportunities for teacher learning. There is a general consensus about these characteristics among researchers and among professional and reform organizations (National Staff Development Council, 2001; American Federation of Teachers, 2002; Elmore, 2002; Knapp, McCaffrey, and Swanson, 2003). Among the more rigorous studies of professional development for teachers are those of mathematics reforms in California (Cohen and Hill, 1998, 2001; Wilson, 2003); studies of District #2 in New York City (Elmore and Burney, 1997; Stein and D’Amico, 1998); a longitudinal study of sustained professional development by the Merck Institute for Science Education (Corcoran, McVay, and Riordan, 2003); the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded studies of systemic reform in mathematics and science (Supovitz and Turner, 2000; Weiss et al., 2003); and evaluations of the federal Eisenhower mathematics and science professional development program (Garet et al., 1999).
Drawing heavily on three previous attempts to synthesize this literature (American Educational Research Association, 2005; Elmore, 2002; Odden et al., 2002), we point to seven critical features of teachers’ opportunities to learn. Research suggests that well-structured opportunities for teacher learning:
Reflect a clear focus on the improvement of student learning in a specific content area that is grounded in the curriculum they teach.
Focus on the strengths and needs of learners in the setting and evidence about what works drawn from research and clinical experience.
Include school-based and job-embedded support in which teachers may engage in assessing student work, designing or refining units of study, or observing and reflecting on colleagues’ lessons.
Provide adequate time during the school day and throughout the year, including considerations of the time required for both intensive work and regular reflection on practice. Furthermore, the overall span of time for teacher professional development is several years.
Emphasize the collective participation of groups of teachers, including opportunities for teachers from the same school, department, or grade level.
Provide teachers with a coherent view of the instructional system (e.g., helping teachers see connections among content and performance standards, instructional materials, local and state assessments, school and district goals, and the development of a professional community).
Require the active support of school and district leaders. School leaders who participate in creating and sustaining teacher learning opportunities are better positioned to support teachers’ use of new knowledge and skills.