Statement of US Senator Joe Lieberman

Upon Introduction of the Teachers Professional Development Institutes Act in the United States Senate

Mr. President, today I am introducing legislation, along with my friend and colleague, the senior Senator from Connecticut, Mr. Dodd, that will strengthen the content knowledge and instructional skills of our present K-12 teacher workforce and thus ultimately raise student achievement.

The Teachers Professional Development Institutes Act would establish eight new Teachers Professional Development Institutes throughout the nation each year over the next five years based on the model which has been operating at Yale University for over 30 years. Every Teachers Institute would consist of a partnership between an institution of higher education and the local public school system in which a significant proportion of the students come from low-income households. These Institutes will strengthen the present teacher workforce by giving each participant an opportunity to gain more sophisticated content knowledge and a chance to develop curriculum units with other colleagues that can be directly applied in their classrooms. We know that teachers gain confidence and enthusiasm when they have a deeper understanding of the subject matter that they teach and this translates into higher expectations for their students and an increase in student achievement.

The Teachers Professional Development Institutes are based on the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute model that has been in existence since 1978. For over 30 years, the Institute has offered, five or six 13-session seminars each year, led by Yale faculty, on topics that teachers have selected to enhance their mastery of the specific subject area that they teach. The subject selection process begins with representatives from the Institutes soliciting ideas from teachers throughout the school district for topics on which teachers feel they need to have additional preparation, topics that will assist them in preparing materials they need for their students, and topics that will assist them in addressing the standards that the school district requires. As a consensus emerges about desired seminar subjects, the Institute director identifies university faculty members with the appropriate expertise, interest and desire to lead the seminar. University faculty members, especially those who have led Institute seminars before, may sometimes suggest seminars they would like to lead, and these ideas are circulated by the representatives as well. The final decisions on which seminar topics are offered are ultimately made by the teachers who participate. In this way, the offerings are designed to respond to what teachers believe is needed and useful for both themselves and their students.

The cooperative nature of the Institute seminar planning process ensures its success. Institutes offer seminars and relevant materials on topics teachers have identified and feel are needed for their own preparation, as well as what they know will motivate and engage their students. Teachers enthusiastically take part in rigorous seminars they have requested, and practice using the materials they have obtained and developed. This helps ensure that the experience not only increases their preparation in the subjects they are assigned to teach, but also their participation in an Institute seminar gives them immediate hands-on active learning materials that can be used in the classroom. In short, by allowing teachers to determine the seminar subjects and providing them the resources to develop relevant curricula for their classroom and their students, the Institutes empower teachers.

The Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute conducted a National Demonstration Project from 1999-2002 that showed that similar Institutes could be created rapidly at diverse sites with large concentrations of disadvantaged students. After two years of research and planning, and based on the success of that Project, the Institute in 2005 launched the Yale National Initiative to strengthen teaching in public schools, a long-term endeavor to assist with the establishment of Teachers Institutes of this specific type in most states. As a result, new Institutes already have been established in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Charlotte, North Carolina; and Institutes are currently being planned for New Castle County, Delaware, and San Francisco, California.

The teachers surveyed for the National Demonstration Project reported that student motivation, student interest, and student mastery were higher during the Institute-developed unit than during other work. Subsequently, the findings of a 2009 Report on Teachers Institute Experiences found that teachers participated out of desires to obtain curricula which suited their needs, increased subject mastery, and motivated students. 96 percent of the teachers rated the Institute seminars as useful, partly due to the reported increase in knowledge and in raising expectations of their students.

A retrospective study showed that over a five-year period Teachers Institute participants were almost twice as likely as non-participants to remain teaching in the district five years later. And research has shown that longevity in a district is associated with teaching effectiveness.

Many agree that teacher quality is the single most important school-related factor in determining student achievement. High-quality teacher professional development programs that focus on subject and pedagogy knowledge are a proven method for enhancing the effectiveness of a teacher in the classroom. A recent review of professional development studies by the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences found that “teachers who receive substantial professional development — an average of 49 hours in the nine studies — can boost their students’ achievement by about 21 percentile points.”

The Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute model enhances teachers’ basic writing, math, and presentation skills. It increases expectations of student achievement and enthusiasm for teaching while developing skills for motivating students. These are key features that research suggests are effective in producing gains in both teacher knowledge and practice and student achievement. The Teachers Institutes accomplish student achievement gains through a proven approach distinguished from both conventional professional development offerings of school districts and from traditional continuing education and outreach programs of colleges and universities.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said recently, “The more we can provide high-quality professional development, so that teachers have deep content knowledge, there are huge benefits.... So whether it’s partnerships with universities and higher ed institutions, to create those meaningful professional development opportunities and really create those content-rich environments that students desperately need, that is absolutely critically important.”

This is precisely what the Teachers Professional Development Institutes Act strives to accomplish. The need for effective teachers with deep content knowledge is most apparent and urgent in schools and school districts that enroll a high proportion of students from low-income families, exactly the schools and school districts that Teachers Institutes serve.

The Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute has already proven to be a successful model for teacher professional development as demonstrated by the high caliber curriculum unit plans that teacher participants have developed and placed on the web, and by the evaluations that support the conclusion that virtually all the teacher participants felt substantially strengthened in their mastery of content knowledge and their teaching skills. The finding that Institute participants were almost twice as likely as non-participants to remain in teaching in high-need schools is especially encouraging. Our proposal would open this opportunity to many more teachers in high-need schools throughout the nation.

I urge my colleagues to act favorably on this measure. I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.