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Initiative Aims to Have Teachers Lead Common-Core PD in California

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For most teachers facing the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards, quality professional development will likely play an integral role in making instructional changes. A new California initiative, announced Monday, aims to improve the ability of teachers to learn from their own peers in order to meet those standards.

The Instructional Leadership Corps, or ILC, is a brainchild of a group of National Board-certified teachers, the California Teachers Association, and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE).

The ILC idea starts with a select group of teachers, who are now receiving training in how to provide quality professional development aligned to the standards. The plan is for those teachers to bring that training regimen to other select teachers in individual schools, in effect creating site-based teams that provide professional learning for their colleagues; that training continues to expand to yet more teachers. Over the course of three years, ILC officials hope the effort will reach over 50,000 California teachers.

The initial group already exists, a cohort of 160 teachers and 24 administrators culled from an applicant pool of over 600 educators. The members of that group have already received initial training and get a $2,000 stipend. Funding for the ILC comes from the S.D. Bechtel Jr. FoundationStuart Foundation, the National Education Association, and the California Education Policy Fund.

Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education and SCOPE faculty director, said that the ILC promises to be an alternative to quick-hit professional learning provided by corporate entities. 

"There's a big difference between a vendor coming in and doing a day or two, and having teacher-to-teacher, school-to-school district learning, which makes more and more people at the local level experts over time," Darling-Hammond said in a conference call on Monday. "It's a much longer-lasting approach."

While a number of forces have aligned to create the statewide initiative in California, those involved see the potential for other states to make similar efforts. Adam Ebrahim, a 9th grade geography teacher in the Fresno Unified School District, said the ILC could be a national model, and that the effort is about "moving teachers out from behind closed doors" to divulge good practices to each other.

"It doesn't matter who you ask, one of the things they all say we have in common is that we have to work collaboratively to build practice," said CTA president Dean E. Vogel.

Many teachers lament the lack of collaboration time schools give them as well as the quality of district-sponsored training, and the ILC initiative may provide a workaround to those issues by supplanting vendor-led PD, thus providing both the development schools are seeking through the collaborative means teachers say they want. And while there's an initial cost to schools, the point is to establish teachers within each school that can foster in-house professional development, theoretically limiting future costs.

But that's still an investment school leaders would have to make, and the initiative is no guarantee that schools will carve out added time for further collaboration, if they're not already. Since it's just getting off the ground, too, administrators will likely be waiting to see if the approach actually improves teaching, and whether teachers at other schools are buying into the approach.

As for scaling up the initiative, California has the benefit of a large union to help organize and publicize, but non-union states may face a struggle trying to get similar efforts off the ground. In addition, unless Darling-Hammond is planning to embark on a 50-state tour, other state efforts would likely need to find worthy substitutes for SCOPE. And, of course, there's the funding part.

The groups behind the ILC plan to have periods of reflection and assessment, which might lead to changes in the model over the next three years, but Brian Guerrero, a middle school teacher for the Lennox school district, sees the initiative as one that can and should be replicated elsewhere.

"It's organic, it's a little messy sometimes," Guerrero said. "But I think it develops a deeper level of understanding among everyone involved."

Image: The magical unicorn of professional development. Credit: Ross Brenneman

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