Innovative Professional Development (iPD)


This project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, provides research and evaluation support for the Innovative Professional Development (iPD) Challenge, which seeks to clarify the extent to which changes in school district professional development systems lead to different teacher experiences and measurable improvements in key teacher outcomes. The iPD Challenge responds to a growing frustration with the current state of teacher professional development in many districts and represents an ambitious attempt to improve teacher support systems and the availability of high-quality professional development. It is based on the theory that if a district adopted a better approach to matching professional development to teacher needs, it would improve the overall effectiveness of its teacher corps, which would in turn lead to improvements in student outcomes.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

A four-year grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is supporting research efforts in five iPD Challenge districts. The goal of the project is to answer three research questions: 

  1. What systems-level changes take place as part of districts’ implementation of iPD?
  2. How does iPD change teacher professional development opportunities and patterns of participation, individually and collectively?
  3. How do teachers’ engagement, relationships, and instructional practice change during the course of implementing the iPD challenge?

Given the three-year duration of the iPD Challenge grants to districts, MDRC’s research and evaluation efforts focus on understanding districts’ implementation of iPD and on relatively short-term outcomes related to changes in school districts’ systems of teacher development. Specifically, MDRC is documenting districts’ progress in areas such as identifying teacher needs, meeting those needs with appropriate professional development opportunities, providing multimodal professional development experiences, providing feedback on teacher practice, and finding additional time for professional development. MDRC is also examining changes in teachers’ experience, engagement, and interrelationships during the implementation of the iPD Challenge.

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

To answer the research questions, MDRC is conducting surveys of secondary school teachers and school principals in five large to midsize school districts. The inquiry began by establishing school-district-specific baseline measures of professional development and teacher practices in place prior to iPD, and the study team will examine changes over time as iPD is implemented in the districts.

Teacher surveys address how well districts identify teachers’ professional development needs, teachers’ participation in professional development (type, content, and hours), the usefulness of professional development activities, teachers’ engagement with those activities, teacher collaboration, teacher observations and feedback, and teachers’ relationships and professional climate. Principal surveys address these topics as well as the support principals receive for helping teachers grow and principals’ perceptions of teacher practice. Across the five study districts the survey samples include nearly 7,000 secondary school teachers and more than 150 school principals.

These district-wide surveys are being supplemented by interviews with district staff members and qualitative case studies in two secondary schools in each of four districts, creating a “nested” structure designed to provide insights into how iPD plays out at different levels of the system over time. The case studies involve semiannual interviews with teachers and school leaders for the first three years of their districts’ iPD implementation. The research team selected case study schools that have teachers who will be involved in their district’s iPD initiative and that could be considered relatively typical of their districts: schools that are not among the highest or lowest achievers or unusual in their staffing, structures, student populations, and so forth. In each case study school, MDRC selected three teachers with different amounts of experience, attitudes toward professional development and instructional improvement, subject areas, and demographic characteristics.

In addition to a summative report, MDRC plans to share formative feedback with the foundation, with participating districts through memos following each round of data collection, and with the broader field at multiple stages of the iPD Challenge through presentations at conventions, webinars, and regularly published practitioner briefs.