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Professional Learning in ESSA: 3 Next Steps

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Stephanie Hirsh

The U.S. Department of Education released draft regulations for implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) last week. The comment period for the regulations is now open, and I encourage educators to offer their input.

I'd like to highlight three points related to professional learning that offer cause for celebration and opportunities to engage in further discussion about meaningful implementation of the law.

First, the draft regulations include a requirement for consolidated state plans to describe states' systems for educator development, retention, and advancement, including how the state will ensure that each local educational agency "has and is implementing a system of professional growth and improvement for teachers, principals, and other school leaders." ESSA has elevated professional learning in a unique and significant way, requiring states to address how they will leverage professional learning in the law's implementation.

Highlighting such systems in regulations is valuable to effective implementation of the law. We will say so in our comments, and we invite you to do the same. Prioritizing effective professional learning is paramount for achieving the outcomes all stakeholders want for children. States and districts will only achieve the law's aspirations for equity and excellence for all students if they offer teachers and school leaders systems of sustained support for growth.

Second, as Learning Forward and its partners continue to advocate for meaningful implementation of ESSA, we urge the U.S. Department of Education to additionally specify in its regulations that professional development align with the definition of professional development outlined in the law itself. The definition is clear that professional development is "sustained (not stand-alone, 1-day, or short term workshops), intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, and classroom-focused" and can encompass many strategies and content areas aligned to student and teacher needs.

Unfortunately, the learning that most educators experience is not yet aligned to this definition, despite evidence from research and practice that indicates these elements are essential for professional learning to achieve its intended outcomes. Given the inclusion of the definition in the law, Learning Forward will ask that regulations specify that professional learning align with the definition in order to have its full impact. Please consider doing the same as you offer input.

Third, Learning Forward and its partners continue to elevate the importance of coherent systems of professional learning that are grounded in evidence, adequately supported, and designed to achieve the goals of equity and excellence. We believe the consolidated plans can spur advancement to educational excellence if regulations encourage a more coherent approach to professional development. State plans can describe states' vision for professional learning and how they intend to use all available federal funding sources to achieve it. Often, Title II funding is treated independently of other Titles and state and local funding sources, leading to parallel or, even worse, competing, systems of support.

Through its regulations, the U.S. Department of Education can encourage states to think differently and establish a coherent system that is relevant to educators. Please join us in asking that the regulations help states conceive a coherent system, aligning its state and district visions for teacher and student learning and detailing how it will use its federal dollars to support such a system.

Learning Forward appreciates the opportunity to continue to engage with the Department of Education to shape effective implementation of ESSA. Anyone can comment on the regulations now. The comment period will be open until August 1.

I urge you to offer your input on the regulations, consider the requests we outline here, and most importantly, use this opportunity to reinforce the critical role effective professional learning systems play in achieving ambitious goals for all students.

Stephanie Hirsh
Executive Director, Learning Forward
@HirshLF

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