school curriculum for mathematics. None of these features—specialist teachers in elementary schools, time for learning collaboratively with other teachers, and experience at a variety of grade levels—is common to U.S. elementary schools.
The kind and quality of teachers’ inservice education can make a difference in how their students achieve. Cohen and Hill (1998) reported on a large-scale study of mathematics teachers in California who participated in a sustained program of professional development. Although this study actually focused on the effects of educational policy, it revealed important information about the opportunities that teachers need both to learn and to teach new state-required mathematics content as a means of enhancing student achievement. Using data from a 1994 survey of California elementary school teachers and student scores from the 1994 California Learning Assessment System (CLAS), this study examined whether students who are taught by teachers with more extensive opportunities for inservice education would perform better than students whose teachers had less extensive opportunities for inservice. “More extensive” was defined as ongoing opportunities to learn subject matter deeply, adopt new curriculum, and learn about appropriate and aligned assessments of student learning and achievement. “Less extensive” was defined as participation in special topic workshops. Cohen and Hill (1998) found that the more time teachers spent in curriculum workshops, including those with opportunities to examine new curriculum with other teachers, the more reform-oriented and less conventional was their teaching practice. In fact, the difference was nearly 0.75 standard deviation higher, a statistically significant difference.
These results also appeared to be associated with student achievement. After taking student characteristics and school conditions into account, there was a modest positive correlation between the degree to which teachers reported that their classroom practice was oriented to California’s state Mathematics Framework and average student scores on the CLAS. Cohen and Hill (1998) noted in particular the fact of the teachers’ involvement with such work as writing topic units potentially to substitute for or elaborate on less indepth textbook treatments. In addition, these teachers were involved in the construction of rubrics for assessing student responses to open-ended kinds of problems. No similar relationship was found for these two variables in schools where teachers engaged in a high degree of conventional practice.
Other studies have produced similar results. For example, another study of