The purpose of this study is to examine the connection between staff development and student achievement and to develop a base of knowledge for improving staff development in Georgia. Since 1985, the state has appropriated funds for staff development under the Quality Basic Education Act, one of the most comprehensive statewide initiatives for school improvement in the United States. In fiscal year 1998, Georgia appropriated over $35 million for staff development in schools and school districts. The Georgia Department of Education has collected information about uses of resources, levels of participation, and accomplishments of effectiveness of staff development in Georgia schools have not been conducted. Indeed, evaluations of staff development programs at a state level are rare. This study provides information to policy makers about whether or not state staff development funds are used in such a way as to have an impact on student achievement. The study also provides information that can be used to help schools maximize the effectiveness of their staff development efforts.
While staff development can be defined in a number of ways, for this study we used the following definition: An organized learning opportunity for teachers to acquire knowledge and skills to help them become more effective teachers. Staff development activities may consist of activities such as a single workshop, a conference, a workshop series, summer institutes, college coursework, or organized peer coaching and study group sessions. A staff development activity may be sponsored by many entities including a school, the school district, Regional Education Service Agencies, state agencies, teacher academies, colleges, or professional networks and organizations.
In this study we ask the question, "Do differences in the ways schools and school districts provide staff development for their teachers account for some of the variation in student achievement across Georgia schools?" The general strategy for the investigation was to select a sample of higher and lower achieving schools across a full range of socio-economic status, to gather data on staff development in these schools, and to test the extent to which the characteristics of staff development varied in the two groups of schools. Sixty schools in 35 districts participated in the study. At each school, we interviewed school administrators, conducted a focus group discussion with six to ten teachers, and surveyed teachers in the school (1,150 teachers responded). At the district office, we interviewed the staff development coordinator, personnel director, and finance director to determine the context in which staff development occurred at the schools.