How Do You Define Professional Development?

By Anthony Rebora — December 07, 2009 2 min read

Live From NSDC, St. Louis-- I attended an interesting session this morning on “How Professional Development Fits Into Federal Policy,” led by NSDC Executive Director Stephanie Hirsh and NSDC Federal Policy Advisor Rene Islas.

The upshot was that NSDC is putting a lot of effort--through congressional lobbying, grassroots support, and field outreach--into getting a new definition of professional development into the reauthorization of NCLB. Islas noted that the PD definition itself--Sec. 9109 (34), if you’re keeping score at home--is a little noticed part of NCLB but has a huge impact on other parts of law (e.g., Title I, teacher quality) where teacher support is referenced. NSDC clearly believes it could be major change-driver in schools.

The definition of PD in the current NCLB ostensibly restricts the use of one-shot workshops, but Islas acknowledged that it “is not having the impact that we think it should.” NSDC’s re-write of the definition thus goes considerably further, stipulating (among other things) that PD should: foster collective responsibility among educators for student performance; be team-based and facilitated by school-based leaders; take place several times per week in a “continuous cycle of improvement"; define clear teacher-learning goals based on data analysis; and inform ongoing improvements in student learning.

There was a general sense around the room that professional development of this type was not happening at very many schools around the country, and that there would be a number of implementation barriers (including teacher and administrator attitudes) that would need to be worked through even if it did become law.

Nevertheless NSDC’s proposal has met with some success already. Hirsh and Islas noted that it is now supported by both the NEA and the AFT and that versions of it have been included in legislation proposed in both houses of Congress. (The latter part of the session was devoted to instructing attendees on how they could press their representatives in Congress to support for the legislation.)

At the same time, Islas noted that NSDC was wary of the possible impact of a recent shift taking place in the policy conversations on teaching. He said there has been an increasing emphasis in Washington and elsewhere on teacher evaluation and measuring teacher effectiveness, with professional development seen merely “as a remediation tool [for underperforming teachers] as opposed to a necessary ingredient to effective schools.” That’s not at all what NSDC had in mind. ...

--Anthony Rebora

A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.