The Impact of Professional Development Schools
on the Education of Urban Students. ERIC Digest.
by Schwartz, Wendy
Professional development schools (PDSs) were originated a decade ago
to provide a new model for teacher education that enables graduate students
to have meaningful classroom experiences while they earn their degree.
Over 1,000 PDSs exist in nearly every state, operating as partnerships
between universities and public schools; most belong to one of many national
or regional networks. PDSs have four overall goals: (1) teacher preparation,
(2) professional development of inservice teachers, (3) research and inquiry
on education practices and dissemination of innovations, and (4) the improvement
of students' school experiences. An additional goal for some PDSs is to
provide supports not available otherwise to underresourced urban schools
and to facilitate change in restructuring schools (Clark, 1999; Levine,
Because of the several, and possibly competing, goals of PDSs, evaluations
have been sketchy and inconclusive, although there is evidence that the
achievement of some students in some PDSs has improved (Abdal-Haqq, 1998a).
There have been many reviews of the concept itself, however, both strongly
supportive and critical. All reviewers can cite evidence for their position,
because experience varies so widely among the many PDSs and because outcomes
at a particular school are affected by the interplay of each partner's
strengths and weaknesses (including regulatory constraints); the skills
and commitment of the university professors, student teachers, and school
staff; and the characteristics of the students and the involvement of their
This digest describes some ways that PDSs can improve the school experiences
of urban students; it also indicates their possible pitfalls. The information
can help guide schools considering a PDS partnership with a teacher education
GENERAL SCHOOL SUPPORT
To "engage in an authentic collaboration" (Fountain, 1997, p. 2), the
school partner in a PDS must be wholly and actively engaged in its PDS
program. It must be willing to create different organizational structures,
develop new roles, and secure additional resources, either through external
sources or the reallocation of internal resources. PDS teachers need to
be committed to making changes in their performance. (Indeed, these are
the same changes required of all restructuring schools.)
One important benefit of involvement in a PDS for public schools is
the presence of additional personnel who can perform many useful functions.
Student teachers can relieve teachers in the classroom while they do planning,
curriculum development, inservice training, and other group activities
that are essential in restructuring schools.
Another benefit of PDSs is the professional development that university
professors offer inservice teachers. Development activities cover a wide
range, such as ways to assess teachers' own effectiveness, the value of
certain teaching techniques, and student needs; and training in new education
strategies and multiculturalism. Computer training is often the most useful,
particularly when it contains a distance learning component that expands
teachers' ability to take courses and to provide children with new experiences
(Abdal-Haqq, 1998b). The promise of a more satisfying professional experience
has a positive impact on teacher retention in schools that otherwise would
have high turnover.
The implementation of integrated service programs in PDSs benefits schools,
particularly those suffering from a lack of social service resources: mental
health and job counseling, dropout and gang prevention programs, etc. University
partners can bring in counseling professors and graduate students both
to work directly with students and families and to provide inservice staff
with training (Clark, 1999). Unfortunately, though, not many PDSs have
successfully incorporated such programs, although the University of Louisville
has developed a Wellness Project that is now being replicated in some PDSs
Improving education in the participating schools may not be the primary
goal of the university partner, given its mandate to educate its own students.
Therefore, schools must work to ensure that their students benefit educationally
from the partnership. There may be a tension between the need to raise
test scores, which is how a school's success is currently judged, and the
desire of a university to develop curriculum and teaching strategies that
increase student learning but not necessarily test scores (Pritchard &
Ancess, 1999). Of course, these goals need not be mutually exclusive, as
demonstrated by a "reading buddy" program at a Houston PDS that paired
student teachers with elementary school students for small group learning;
the program, which also sparked the strong involvement of inservice teachers,
raised test scores significantly (Abdal-Haqq, 1998b).
One important aspect of the PDS model is "inquiry": ongoing "action
research" by all PDS participants to explore how they themselves and the
students learn and interact, how they can apply this information to improve
students' learning, and how effective the instructional innovations they
develop are (Smith, 1999).
The stated educational philosophy of PDSs is learner-centered, constructivist
practice, which will increase learning by being responsive to the various
needs of a diverse student population, instead of demanding that all students
fit into the "traditional, largely Eurocentric [teaching] mold" (Abdal-Haqq,
1998b, p. 35). Specific strategies include cooperative learning, use of
hands-on manipulatives, story reading and writing, and students' use of
the discovery method to learn independently (Davis, 1999). While assistance
in implementing such a philosophy can be an important benefit for the school
partner, "only a few studies" indicate that these strategies are actually
being used (Abdal-Haqq, 1998b, p. 35).
The value to students of small group learning and personal attention
by teachers is well demonstrated by the PDS experience. Because of the
large number of educators on site, PDSs can develop one-on-one and group
tutoring activities whose pace is determined by the students' progress.
Moreover, student teachers in a classroom can work privately with a child
to reinforce learning while the teacher moves through the curriculum more
quickly with the remainder of the class (Pritchard & Ancess, 1999).
DEVELOPMENT OF EFFECTIVE MULTICULTURAL EDUCATION STRATEGIES
An important PDS focus is infusion of a multicultural perspective into
learning. Ideally, PDSs implement multilingual, multiethnic, and culturally
diverse learning experiences, and adapt them to meet the particular needs
and learning styles of urban students. They sensitize teachers to student
differences, explain the importance of drawing upon community and family
resources, and provide opportunities for teacher education students to
develop long-term relationships with children different from themselves
Several problems have been identified with this PDS effort, however.
First, the public desire to train more teachers whose ethnicity and socioeconomic
status match their students' is somewhat subverted by the PDS model itself.
Teacher education training through a PDS largely prevents students from
working simultaneously; thus, it is most likely that white students with
better access to financial resources will enroll in the program. Second,
research has shown that presenting information about the learning and behavioral
characteristics of different ethnic groups can increase teacher stereotyping
and even lead to the belief that some students cannot learn (Proctor, Wagstaff,
& Ochoa, 1998). Third, according to Murrell & Borunda (1998), many
PDSs consider equity to be "equality of opportunity and access," as opposed
to equality of outcomes, which is the true way disadvantaged students an
become equal with "mainstream" students. Finally, they assert, most PDSs
accept the traditional structure of schools, including their relationships
with students' families and communities, thus possibly leaving in place
inequitable access to education and distributions of power (p. 69).
PARENT AND COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT
Efforts to involve parents depend on the commitment of the public school
and university staffs involved in the PDS, and some PDSs have model programs.
An El Paso PDS has developed a "democratic community" enabling parents
to initiate their own action plans and collaborate with educators on school
restructuring. At a rural Nebraska PDS students engage in ongoing activities
to connect them to the community (Smith, 1999). A Houston PDS operates
a Saturday School, a ten-week program for parents and students that complements
other parent support services, including English language classes (LeCompte,
Irby, & Lara-Alecio, 1995).
These models notwithstanding, "explicit programming to involve parents
and communities...is not widespread" (Abdal-Haqq, 1998b, p. 54). Some school
and university staffs do not consider working collaboratively with parents
important; thus, their student teachers do not have an opportunity to see
how it can be done effectively (Proctor et al., 1998) nor to work productively
with individuals whose socioeconomic status and race differs from theirs
(Murrell & Borunda, 1998).
Urban schools can benefit from becoming a partner in a PDS in many ways.
Often, the positive effects, such as staff development and the acquisition
of technology resources, will be felt even after the partnership is ended.
But because the original promises of PDSs are frequently only partially
fulfilled, schools should seek assurances from potential university partners
that their institutional needs and the needs of their students will be
considered just as seriously as the effort to educate student teachers.
Schools entering into a PDS partnership must also commit themselves to
the hard work of institutional change, which involves the way they operate
and educate, and the way their staff members work and relate to each other
(Davis, 1999). Finally, schools and communities need to partner in the
planning and operation of a PDS to ensure that the goal of equity translates
into student achievement, school accountability, and community involvement
(Murrell & Borunda, 1998).
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