Modest Supports for Sustaining Professional Development Outcomes over the Long Term

PIs: Cathy Ringstaff (WestEd) and Judith Sandholtz

Funder: National Science Foundation

Duration: 2016-2020

Project Description

This four-year NSF (DRK-12) grant will support longitudinal research that investigates if and how modest supports for science teaching in grades K-5 sustain professional development outcomes over the long term. Similar to regular tune-ups for automobiles, the investment needed for sustainability of teacher outcomes may be minor in comparison to initial costs, but pay important dividends in terms of long-term function. In contrast to the established value of automobile tune-ups, the value of “tune-up” services for sustainability of professional development outcomes is an open question.

This project stems from findings from a prior NSF-funded DRK-12 study about the persistence of teacher change after professional development ends. That research found that changes in teachers’ attitudes and instructional practices began to decline two years after the professional development ended, but remained higher than pre-program. The most significant changes occurred in teachers’ self-efficacy in teaching science. Teachers continued to use a broader range of instructional strategies in science than pre-program but their reported frequency declined. Teachers often lacked the ongoing supports to sustain the instructional changes they had made in science as a result of the professional development. Rather than extensive, additional professional development and resources, teachers recommended modest supports to assist them in continuing to teach science and to implement the instructional strategies that they learned in the original program. The intervention in this new project is based on these findings and is designed with the aim of sustaining change in science instruction, not providing foundational professional development.

This project is uniquely situated to examine this issue because of access to pre- and post-program data (based on the same instruments) from four different professional development projects that aimed to improve science instruction by improving teachers’ content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, and self-efficacy in teaching science. Using these data as a baseline, researchers will implement a modest intervention with 50 teachers who participated in one of these four professional development projects and will gather data using comparable outcome measures over a three-year period. The study will address the following research questions:

  • To what extent do modest supports foster the sustainability of professional development outcomes in instructional time in science; teachers’ self-efficacy in science; and their use of inquiry-based strategies?
  • Which supports are the most critical for sustainability of outcomes and the most cost-effective?
  • What contextual factors support or impede the sustainability of professional development outcomes?

The research offers a rare opportunity to follow teachers over a 10- to 12-year period that includes a 3-year professional development program, a 4- to 6-year span after the program ended, and a 3-year intervention of modest supports.