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Standards Adoption vs. Adaptation: Consider the Costs and Benefits

Stephanie Hirsh image
Stephanie Hirsh

I've been in several recent conversations with educators at the state and district level who are committed to using standards to guide their professional learning work, but unsure about adopting Learning Forward's Standards for Professional Learning at the state level. They often see the need to adapt or develop their own set of standards.

Learning Forward is proud to share that its Standards for Professional Learning represent the collective work and commitment of many leading professional associations and thought leaders. If a school system goes searching for a set of standards for professional learning, only Learning Forward will surface.

The advantage of using the Standards for Professional Learning at a high level is that the common language of one set of standards allows for conversation, collaboration, and implementation planning that crosses state, regional, and national borders. This collaboration can leverage expertise to change practice and results from any corner of the world.

Yet a common concern among educators - and one we hear related to the Common Core standards as well - is that an individual state or system's needs and context require customization of the standards.

I understand that concern. Certainly each system must address its challenges in the ways that best meet the needs of its educators. However, I offer this response. The Standards for Professional Learning, while they define essential conditions and components of effective professional learning, are a high-level framework. The time a state- or districtwide committee would spend in defining a framework at that level is much better spent in translating the standards into practice. This is where local context really makes a difference. The Standards for Professional Learning are big statements that need local interpretation.

So as educators consider whether to adopt the existing Standards for Professional Learning or adapt them, I offer these questions to weigh:

  • What will be gained by the local adaptation vs. adoption and at what cost?
  • How many people can be involved in the process? How will those not involved in development be included or informed?
  • How much time will be invested in developing standards vs. implementing more effective professional learning?

Creating a set of standards is time consuming. And while those conversations can be valuable for the knowledge and buy-in they engender, they also delay the important detailed work of envisioning how practice will change so that student results improve. That's where we really need our regional, state, and local educators to apply their expertise. 

Stephanie Hirsh
Executive Director, Learning Forward
@HirshLF

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