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Teachers Need 2 Weeks a Year For Their Own Learning

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Teachers should work at least two additional weeks each year to allow adequate time for the kind of in-depth professional development that leads to greater student learning, a study by the National Education Association's foundation recommends.

Learning must become "a seamless part of the daily and yearlong job," argues the report released last month.

Teachers themselves--through collective bargaining, advocacy, and partnerships in their states and communities--should initiate efforts to improve the quality of professional development, it urges.

"Teachers Take Charge of Their Learning: Transforming Professional Development for Student Success," written by Judith Renyi, the executive director of the Washington-based National Foundation for the Improvement of Education, is the product of two years of study. It includes a national survey of more than 800 teachers.

Nearly three-fourths of those surveyed said helping students learn is the first priority for professional development. This emphasis, the report says, is further strengthened by research showing that sustained, in-depth teacher learning connects directly with student results.

Too often, however, teachers' knowledge is not tapped because they have so few opportunities to get together and share it, Ms. Renyi said in releasing the report.

"The single largest wasted resource in this country is what teachers know," she said. "We are talking about building knowledge."

Arthur E. Wise, the chairman of the NFIE board of directors and the president of the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, called for the current system of generic, in-service teacher training to be replaced by approaches that are specific to individual schools.

"It is our conclusion that many, many education reforms have failed as a result of insufficient investment in teachers' professional development," Mr. Wise said. "We have learned that we must make a serious and sustained investment in teacher learning."

Partnerships Urged

In addition to school-based professional development, the report recommends that:

  • Professional-development decisions be guided by standards for student learning and for professional practice;
  • Professional development be designed to balance the needs of individual teachers with those of their schools;
  • Teachers and administrators collaborate to create peer-assistance and -review programs to nurture all teachers and advise those who are unable to improve to leave the profession; and
  • Schools organize a yearlong program for experiencedsic teachers who are newcomers to the school to introduce them to the school and help them refine their practice.

For professional development to be more effective, the report says, teachers need partners. Higher education institutions are major resources, it says, and should include professional development as a central mission. Libraries, museums, historical societies, arts organizations, and businesses also should form partnerships to improve teachers' learning.

While many such alliances have been formed in the past 15 years, the report notes, few have survived without outside financial help. States and districts should work with teacher organizations to identify current expenditures for professional development, the report says, and reallocate money to support expanded roles and learning for teachers.

States should ensure that such partnerships are accessible to all teachers. And the report recommends that the federal government set up a national institute for professional development to support exemplary work.

The report includes vignettes that illustrate ways schools and districts are making innovative use of time to create opportunities for professional development.

An Expensive Proposal

The report's recommendation for lengthening teachers' work year drew a cautious response from the National School Boards Association.

Anne L. Bryant, the executive director of the Alexandria, Va.-based group, pointed out that the report's recommendations are "potentially very expensive."

"The recommendation to reallocate existing resources could be difficult as well," Ms. Bryant said in a statement, "since about 83 percent of school district budgets already goes to employee salaries and benefits."

To help communities begin implementing the report's recommendations, the NEAfoundation announced a program called A Change of Course, which will make grants available to 16 sites. The program is supported by grants totaling $525,000 from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and other private funders.

For More Information:

Copies of the report are available for $15 each plus $3.50 shipping and handling, from NFIE Publications, P. O. Box 509, West Haven, Conn. 06516.

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