Education Opinion

What Would Better Professional Development Look Like?

By Michelle Rhee — May 02, 2014 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

This week, Michelle and Jack have been discussing teacher retention and development. They conclude their conversation today, by discussing particular policies designed to help teachers grow as professionals.

Schneider: Let’s talk a little bit about how we’re going to support teachers. If we can agree that teaching is a complex profession that requires a wide variety of competencies that aren’t often discussed in policy rhetoric, how do you envision building capacity among teachers?

Rhee: As I said earlier, teacher professional development needs to be geared toward the specific needs of the educator. I think the ideal system empowers teachers. For example, if a district is spending $3,000 a year per teacher on professional development, then give the power of that spending to the teacher. They can take an online course, use it to pay subs so they can observe master teachers elsewhere in the district, or hire a coach/mentor in a particular area.

As long as they are improving they should be allowed to continue to drive those decisions. The exception to this would be a teacher whose performance is not improving. In those cases, that educator probably requires more specific guidance.

Schneider: I think that model—of leaving educators without much support in terms of their own development—has proven itself a failure. Teachers need good facilitation—and not from online courses or PD hucksters.

That isn’t to say that district-run PD is any better. A majority of teachers get no more than 16 hours of PD each year. And with the exception of content-related work, which is itself an exception, teachers generally find professional development unhelpful.

The answer, I think, is to build more time for collaboration and professional growth into the work day. U.S. teachers spend nearly 40% more time teaching students than teachers in comparable nations. Why? Because we haven’t approached this question thoughtfully.

I think that if we’re going to be evaluating teachers in a more robust way—and you and I still disagree about how that should be done—then you need to invest heavily in building capacity so that all teachers can continue growing.

Rhee: I disagree with the notion that freeing teachers up won’t work. Where have we seen teachers really empowered to make professional development choices for themselves and it’s failed? I’d argue we haven’t done it yet. Teachers are smart. If they take an online class and it stinks, they won’t do it again and they’ll tell others not to do it.

We absolutely need to build into that model a way for teachers to rate the quality of what they got.

Schneider: But we already do that. We ask teachers to evaluate PD providers. And do you know which providers get the highest scores? The ones that are the least boring. Why? Because, as surveys show, teachers have totally given up on actually learning anything from PD days. Expectations are as low as they can possibly go.

Rhee: So you’re saying since expectations are low teachers wouldn’t recognize real quality? I’d argue that we need to set up a system that has a lot of high-quality options. In fact, why not let teachers design it?

I agree with you that teachers need more time for collaboration. But I would also say that we need to ensure that time is used well. I’ve seen this model work extraordinarily well and I’ve also seen it not work well, mostly because there isn’t a skilled facilitator who is really making the most of the time.

Schneider: I actually agree with you here. And I’m wondering why this isn’t a part of the bigger conversation. Because this seems like a much more important place to be channeling our energies than trying to use half-baked methodologies to rate teachers. We should be pouring everything we’ve got into helping teachers become better every single day on the job.

Rhee: This isn’t a zero sum game. We can and must work on multiple tracks to improve teacher development. Having rigorous teacher evaluations is one important piece. High quality professional development is another. Policies that keep great teachers in the classroom is yet another. I’d say that we have to work on all of these parallel tracks to help teachers become better.

Schneider: Unfortunately it is a zero-sum game. In fact, it’s the very definition of one. Because we’re working with limited time, limited human resources, and limited dollars. And whatever you allocate to one concern is going to come at the expense of another.

Crafting new policy is easy. But following through is another matter entirely. So while I’m theoretically in total agreement with you about the need for better evaluation systems, better PD, and better retention efforts, I also happen to see those as resource-intensive matters. They can’t be dealt with through new policies alone.

Better PD is going to require major capital investments. It can’t just be outsourced. At least not if it’s actually going to work.

I’d like to see teachers engaged in collaborative lesson-study teams, working with trained coaches, connecting with scholars at local colleges and universities, and reviewing artifacts of practice (student work, video of themselves, and yes, even test scores). And that’s going to take a huge investment. But imagine the payoff. Imagine a school that functioned like a real learning community.

Rhee: I think we can agree that doing all three of those things is important. How to do it at the same time—which I think can be done—is the difference. Perhaps we can explore funding/flexibility in an upcoming post.

The opinions expressed in K-12 Schools: Beyond the Rhetoric are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP