A Comparative Study of Two Professional Development Models' Impact on Preschool Teachers' Classroom Practices
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A convincing body of research supports the significant nature of high quality child care. Yet, the quality of child care programs across the United States vary greatly and can be considered mediocre at best (Belsky, Clarke-Stewart, McCartney, Vandell, & Owen; Burchinal, 2007; Pianta, Barnett, Burchinal, & Thornburg, 2009). This can be largely attributed to the preparation of the workforce. The preparation offered to child care teachers is minimal. Child care licensing agencies vary in their staff qualification requirements and other structural factors associated with higher quality early care and education. Most states have no requirements for pre-service training and a high school diploma or its equivalency is usually sufficient. In reviewing the literature on child care quality, it is evident that public policy and research in this area are not aligned. There is a gap between “what is” and “what we know” about the education and care of young children. Child care continues to be the “stepchild” of our early education system (Pianta et al., 2009). However, researchers have found that professional development can be a promising method for improving teachers’ classroom practices regardless of their uncoordinated and minimal preparation (Arnett, 1989; Fiene, 2001; Zaslow, 2009). The focus of this study was to build on the limited but emerging research that evaluates the effectiveness of multiple forms of professional development when combined into comprehensive professional development models. United Way Bright Beginnings (UWBB) has provided ongoing professional development to staff working in child care centers since 2002. Two distinct models of professional development have been used over the years (Tier II and Tier IV). Both models combined specialized training and on-site coaching into a cohesive professional development approach. A third component, collegial small groups, was added to the Tier IV model. This component promoted a more collaborative and collegial approach to the professional development process. To determine the impact of the two professional development models, the classroom practices of 29 preschool teachers were investigated. The study examined archival data collected as part of a larger longitudinal study. Utilizing descriptive analysis and independent samples t-tests, the study compared participants’ pretest and posttest mean scores on the Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale-Revised ([ITERS-R] Harms & Clifford, 1990) and Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale-Revised ([ECERS-R] Harms, Clifford, & Cryer, 1998). Overall, descriptive results indicated that the components and format of both professional development models had an impact on improved classroom practices for teachers participating in the UWBB program. However, participants of the Tier IV professional development model showed higher gains in total mean score growth for both ITERS-R and ECERS-R than the Tier II group. Utilizing a t-test, mean differences between classroom ratings for both models were examined and results indicated that no apparent statistically significant differences between the two professional development models existed. Further analysis at the subscale level determined that there was a statistically higher difference in gains on the ITERS-R and ECERS-R Activities subscales for one professional development model. No other significant differences were found.