Online Teacher PD

Title II funding has resulted in the allocation of more than three billion dollars to professional development (Darling-Hammond et al, 2009). More than 40 states have adopted standards calling for effective professional development. Yet, as a nation, we have failed to leverage these examples to ensure that every educator and every student benefits from highly effective professional learning.

PD in Learning

Blank & Alas (2009) reported that standards-based educational improvement requires teachers to have deep knowledge of their subject and the pedagogy that is most effective for teaching the subject. School districts spend the equivalent of $200/pupil on professional development (Killeen, Monk, & Plecki, 2002). Unfortunately, teachers often view professional development as ineffectual or a waste of their time. Many programs offer “fragmented, intellectually superficial” seminars (Borko, 2004, p 3). Worse, these PDs do not provide ongoing support for implementing new strategies or tools (Barnett, 2002). This makes it difficult for teachers to implement new practices in environments resistant to change.

Dede et al (2005) reviewed 400 articles about online, face-to-face, and hybrid teacher PD programs and found 40 that represented high-quality empirical research. They developed five areas for examining best practices (a) Design, (b) Effectiveness, (c) Technology, (d) Communication, and (e) Methods. These focus areas may provide a framework for evaluating MOOCs as Blended/Online Teacher Professional Development assets.


If you are in Las Vegas, Nevada, please join me at the 2015 SITE Conference at the Rio Hotel. I will be discussing the benefits of leveraging and scaling MOOCs as teacher professional development assets at a research panel on Professional Development and Teacher Preparation for K-12 Online and Blended Settings on Thursday, March 5th, from 4:15-5:15 pm, in room #11.

Also joining me will be:

• Keryn Pratt, University of Otago, New Zealand
• Susan Poyo, Franciscan University of Steubenville, United States
• Kathy McVey, Franciscan University of Steubenville, United States
• Mary Lucille Smith, Franciscan University of Steubenville, United States
• Margie Johnson, University of Phoenix, United States
See you in Vegas, baby…

Can MOOCs Improve Teacher PD?

School districts spend the equivalent of $200/pupil on professional development (Killeen, Monk, & Plecki, 2002). Unfortunately, teachers often view professional development as ineffectual or a waste of their time. Many programs offer “fragmented, intellectually superficial” seminars (Borko, 2004, p 3). Worse, these PDs do not provide ongoing support for implementing new strategies or tools (Barnett, 2002). This makes it difficult for teachers to implement new practices in environments resistant to change.

Anant Agarwal argues that massively open online courses matter and they should be viewed as next-generation textbooks. Educational leaders should take what we already know about MOOCs and use that information to drive change. For instance, research shows the people who benefit most from MOOCs are people who are already employed and who have multiple degrees. In my industry, we call these folks unionized teachers. There are approximately three million of them in the United States. Educational leaders should pilot test using MOOCs as PD modules and pair them with screening tools that identify teachers who are innovative, and proactive risk takers. Then, when districts want to implement new technology or pedagogical initiatives, they have a ready pool of talent are willing to try new things.

Dede et al (2005) reviewed nearly four hundred articles about online, face-to-face, and hybrid teacher professional development programs (the full list is available at The researchers examined forty research studies that represented high quality empirical research. The focus and purpose of these studies addressed five areas of concern: (a) Design of professional development; (b) Effectiveness of professional development; (c) Technology to support professional development; (d) Online communication and professional development; and (e) Research methods. These best practices deserve greater examination and experimentation.

MOOCs offer educational leaders an opportunity to cost-effectively pilot test staff training programs. Further, they produce robust data sets that illustrate which learning activities are effective. This information can be analyzed to fine-tune the rollout of costly programs like 1:1 implementations. While for-profit entities shop their online education wares to low-income students in need of credit recovery, perhaps the smart play is to market MOOCs to people who want to be life-long learners, improve their technical skills, and increase their pedagogical moves.  These people are already in your buildings. They are your teachers.


Dede, C., Breit, L., Jass-Ketelhut, D., McCloskey, E., and Whitehouse, P. (2005). An overview of current findings from empirical research on online teacher professional development. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Cambridge, MA. November, 2005. Accessed at

New Roles For Teachers


Petrilli (no relation) has recommended several approaches for realigning the teaching workforce to create productivity gains: 1) redefining the roles of classroom teachers to create a more productive and better paid workforce; 2) prioritizing salary over benefits to attract more aggressive workers; 3) paying for increased productivity by asking fewer people to do more work in order to get better results; 4) integrating online and “blended” education models into public schools. I have not heard of any districts using this advice. As educational leaders look to MOOCs for additional cost savings in public education, perhaps two other proposed efficiencies should be reconsidered.

Per pupil weighted formulas

Hill (2012) suggested federal, state, and local governments combine funds spent on K–12 education, divide it by enrollment, assign it as weighted fractions on a per pupil basis that will ensure sufficient equity, and then distribute those dollars to schools directly. This would force a significant reduction in expensive administrative structures, because money would not be held by centralized bureaucracies to preserve particular schools or programs, but would flow wherever students are educated. This type of revenue stream would help schools eliminate district and state barriers to innovation that are inherent multiple layers of management.

Zero-based budgeting

Jefferson (1995) proposed decentralizing educational budgets to allow the disbursement of funds aimed at maximizing student development. A strategy for decentralizing budgets is zero-based budgeting, which requires a full analysis of operating programs. Jones (2012) clarified that zero-based budgeting called for an intensive examination of all aspects of government programs and their effectiveness. Governor Nathan Deal required zero-based budgeting for 37 of Georgia’s Department of Education programs in its 2014 state budget. Most schools simply review the revenues and expenditures from the previous year with the understanding that everything is working. Zero-based budgeting requires that school leaders assess the best use of taxpayer’s dollars and allocate the money as if they were personally writing the checks.

Reporting administrative and business expenses via per unit costs, replacing restricted categorical funding “buckets” with per pupil funding and using zero-based budgeting methodologies to scrutinize legacy programs may have a profound effect on how schools make financial decisions. By streamlining funding sources and reducing restrictions on how funds are used, school governance structures may be able to more explicitly report spending trends, because there will be fewer categories of funds.

Largely absent from the discussion on MOOCs is reasoned debate on how schools can increase efficiency and productivity. Public education has already identified methods for reorganizing school districts and reducing costs by analyzing district business and administrative costs on a per unit basis. Bydistributing school revenues equitably, transparently, and in ways that allow schools flexibility with funds, decentralized school governance models could implement zero-based or per pupil budgeting at their school sites. While additional gains in teacher effectiveness may be realized by using technology to enhance productivity, the promise of realizing substantial savings from MOOC implementation in K12 pale in comparison to the suggestions listed here.


Hill, P. (2012). The costs of online learning. In Education Reform for the Digital Era (pp. 77-98). Eds. Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Daniela R. Fairchild. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Washington, D.C.

Jefferson, A. (1995). Decentralized budgeting: Getting the most out of disbursements of funds. Education Canada, 35(4), 33-35.

Jones, W.C., (2012) State’s zero-based budgeting program to focus on education. Morris News Service. Monday, June 11, 2012. Athens, GA.

Petrilli, M. (2012). How school districts can stretch the school dollar. Policy Brief. Accessed at

MOOCs as a K12 Cost Reduction Strategy



Many policymakers are eager to realize the potential cost savings from MOOC-ifying public education. Yet scholars have previously identified methods for reorganizing school systems to gain more efficiency that have been routinely ignored. Granted they will require considerable effort at the federal and state level, as well as within districts and individual schools, however, immediate savings can be attained by rigorous analysis of costs on a per unit basis. Then school funds can be distributed equitably, transparently, and in ways that allow schools additional flexibility. This will allow decentralized school governance models to implement zero-based or per pupil budgeting methods at school sites. These savings efforts should be initiated before schools attempt additional efficiencies like online or blended learning education models. That way savings can offset MOOC infrastructure and production costs with any remainder to be reinvested into meaningful ed tech R&D.

Industrial benchmarking practices will allow districts to reorganize the way they deliver non-educational services more efficiently. This will allow schools to achieve additional labor efficiencies by implementing effective programs already in place in similar districts. The Council of the Great City Schools has analyzed 340 performance indicators and found it possible for districts to save between $50-$100 million annually by bringing their business services, finance, and technology operations in line with best practices.

Schools that exploit modern technologies, using the Internet, digital information systems, and computerized instruction, can transform their core economics and performance. Online schools typically employ about 1 educator for every 35 students, while traditional public schools employ 1 teacher for every 15.8 students.   This suggests that schools can become more productive by using technology to assist with tasks like planning, content presentation, assessment, and reporting; which will free up expensive teacher labor for high yield work like providing one-on-one instruction and personalizing pedagogy. The savings from reduced labor costs could be used for additional investments, like increasing teacher compensation, offering performance pay incentives and making the job more financially attractive to highly qualified teaching candidates.

Further, the online segment could be used for training teachers to be more effective in areas like classroom management, differentiated instruction or standards-based grading. Perhaps online instruction could provide the public education system with differentiated career paths in teaching. Online teachers can choose from multiple roles like advisor, synchronous teacher, synchronous tutor, and asynchronous grader. This would allow teachers to take on more specialized and manageable online roles tailored to their unique skills. Different pay rates and work schedules would allow additional flexibility and build greater efficiencies into the workforce. For instance, instead of having to take leave from teaching, parents of young children may be able to work evening shifts or flexible part-time schedules as asynchronous graders, or as on-line instructors/advisors.


Casserly, M., and Carlson, R. (2011). Managing for results in America’s great city schools: A report of the performance measurement and benchmarking project. Council of the Great City Schools. Washington, DC. Accessed at

Chubb, J. (2010). More productive schools through online learning. Draft conference paper prepared for the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas B. Fordham Institute conference, “A Penny Saved: How Schools and Districts Can Tighten Their Belts While Serving Students Better,” January 11, 2010. Accessed at