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Report Urges Contractual, State Policy Support for PD

State lawmakers and district officials should revise local collective bargaining contracts and state laws so that they support high-quality professional development, urges a report released recently by four groups.

The National Staff Development Council, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Council of Chief State School Officers banded together to produce the report. It incorporates the work of six state teams charged with examining local collective bargaining language and state codes that shape professional development.

The report covers a wide swath of topics, including whether the states have standards for professional development; specify budgetary policies for professional development; compensate teachers for professional development; and provide for teacher-designed PD and collaboration. It also discusses how they address a few specific types of training, such as the PD required for relicensure, induction, national-board certification, and career ladders.

The examples they discuss in the report aren't perfect, the authors write, but are at least a jumping-off point for further discussion.

In all, the report's authors deem the current scope of policies disappointing. "From our study in these six states, it seems that professional learning does not have a significant place in policy and collective bargaining language," they write.

One of the big problems: a lot of these examples are still oriented toward a model of PD based on seat time and credit hours, rather than focusing on whether the training involves rigorous activities measured for their effect on student learning. What's more, the policies typically don't even specify parameters for the content of the professional development.

And school schedules often don't support collaboration among educators. Not one of the six states had a district with a formal policy about the effective use of time set aside for PD. For example, in North Carolina, the state school calendar sets aside eight mandatory days for staff development, but teachers can take annual leave for seven of those days.

"The harder, more productive challenge is to reorganize the school day to allow teachers to have time for collaborative professional learning, thereby benefiting all students," the authors write. (For an example of what this might look like, check out what the Brooklyn Generation school is doing in New York City.)

I"ll post a link to the report as soon as I have it, and once you've digested the report, please write in here with your thoughts. To get the dialogue started, here are a couple of things that occurred to me as a I read the report:

Specificity: What is the proper grain size for these policies? Specificity has the advantage of laying out clear expectations, but also risks adverse consequences. Take California's Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment induction program and Florida's professional-learning-community requirements, for instance: Over the years I've heard from some teachers who have found these programs helpful and from other teachers who say the initiatives have generated more paperwork than results.

Implementation: Even a clearly written, thoughtful policy is just that—a policy. What really matters is how well it is put into place. If you know of a district that does a particularly good job translating one of these pathways into effective PD, why not write in and tell us where it is and why you think it's exemplary?

Cost: When you add up all these different forms of development—induction, relicensure, release time for teachers to collaborate, extra compensation for engaging in PD, salaries for teacher coaches, and so on, you're talking significant costs—a topic the report glosses over. What does all this actually get us in terms of student learning? That's a hard question to answer, because the research literature is pretty thin overall on this question.

EdWeek reporters, including yours truly, will dig into a number of these issues in coming stories, so stay tuned. We'll have more for you soon.

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