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Professional Development: A Critical Activity to Address the Looming Teacher Shortage

As a nation, we are running out of teachers.

Projections show that by 2018, the national demand for teachers will far outpace the supply—by approximately 100,000. Shortages are becoming particularly acute in math, science, special education, and bilingual education. While the decline in the number of new teachers entering the profession is a significant factor, it is the departure, or attrition, of beginning and mid-career teachers from the field that is the main reason for the growing shortage.

This turnover is costly, and undermines student achievement and school improvement efforts. Not having the most experienced staff on the job reduces any organization’s chances of success. Moreover, teacher attrition disproportionately impacts high-poverty schools. In 2012–13, almost one in 10 teachers in high-poverty public schools (those with 75% or more of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches) left the profession. In contrast, less than one in 15 teachers in low-poverty schools (those with 34% or fewer students receiving free or reduced-price lunches) left the profession.[1]

Rightfully, policymakers are focusing their efforts on how to bring more teachers into the profession, but it’s equally, if not more, important to focus on how to keep the teachers we do have. Indeed, some analysts suggest that reducing attrition by just 4% would eliminate the overall shortages.[2]  What are the underlying causes of the turnover in these high-need schools? Why are teachers leaving? One factor consistently associated with teacher retention is ongoing professional development. Teachers who receive effective and evidence-based professional development have been found to stay in teaching at rates more than twice those of teachers who lack these supports.

To be effective, PD should be

  • concentrated, sequenced, and linked to the work of teachers (ideally, teachers working in the same subject area or grade level). Research on effective PD shows that teachers who receive more than 50 hours of PD annually are more likely to change practice.[3] Also, when PD is sequenced—building upon previous content—it can lead to improved student achievement.

  • focused on the instruction of specific curriculum content and students’ work in response to the instruction. Teachers consistently report that they are most interested in strategies they can use “tomorrow,” with content their students are expected to know, and that result in student work showing how well they’ll do on state assessments.

  • coordinated with a school’s improvement goals and objectives. A school’s professional development that adheres to the first two guidelines, and that aligns with the school’s improvement priorities and goals, is far more likely to lead to sustained, positive change and improved student learning.

  • structured to build strong working relationships among teachers. One of the strongest and most consistent findings on professional development is that in schools where teachers formed active professional learning communities, student absenteeism and drop-out rates were reduced and achievement increased significantly.[4]

At Measurement Incorporated, our professional development staff use these “indicators” to guide their work with teachers, coaches, and school administrators across key areas of school reform, including

  • instructional coaching,

  • special education practice,

  • multi-tiered systems of support,

  • bullying prevention,

  • social-emotional learning, and

  • school climate.

Please learn more about our professional development services work on this website.


[1] Podolsky, A., Kini, T., Bishop, J., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2016). Solving the teacher shortage: How to attract and retain excellent educators. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.

[2] Darling-Hammond, L., & Rothman, R. (2011). Teacher and leader effectiveness in high-performing education systems. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education; Stanford, CA: SCOPE. Article is available at:

[3] Corcorran, T., McVay, S., & Riordan, K. (2003) Getting it right: The MISE approach to professional development. Philadelphia PA: Consortium for Policy Research in Education. DOI: 10.12698/cpre.2003.rr55

[4] Bryk, A., Camburn, E., & Louis, C. (1999). Professional community in Chicago elementary schools: Facilitating factors and organizational consequences. Educational Administration Quarterly, 35, 751-781.

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