No Direction, No Accountability: Why the Inservice System Breaks Down

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"You have to find ways to make what you do day after day in the classroom new, and you have to get something out of it for yourself. It has to have some personal meaning. But no one cares. There is little support. I often feel--not like an island--but a chunk of land that's been washed away from the mainland and could be overcome by the sea. If there is no challenge, and no one helps, you begin to feel that what you do doesn't really matter."--Martha Sussman, now in her 10th year as an English teacher at Aviation High School in Queens, N.Y.

Many of Ms. Sussman's colleagues in America's elementary and secondary schools, studies show, are demoralized, burnt out, weary of teaching--or at least weary of struggling with the problems that now characterize teaching.

At the same time, there is widespread dissatisfaction with the performance of the nation's public schools and many blame teachers directly. The public is demanding better results for its money, and teachers are suddenly the focus of efforts to improve the schools.

But the system relied upon to renew teachers, to rekindle their interest and sharpen their skills--commonly called staff development--is not working, many believe. Moreover, they say, American education's staff-development system is failing just when it is needed most: at a time when the present teaching force is aging and few new teachers are getting jobs, and when the challenges of new technology and teaching methods are increasing rapidly.

The reasons are many and complicated.

For one thing, there is apparently very little consensus within school systems on what the goals of staff development--often called professional development or inservice training--should be, much less on the best ways to fulfill these goals.

"There is a lack of vision about what staff development is and what it can do," said Betty Dillon-Peterson, director of staff development for the Lincoln, Neb. school system, and a founder of the National Staff Development Council, a 7-year-old group of about 200 school-system staff-development personnel.

"Staff developers often are not any more aware of the findings of recent research or of successful classroom practices than those they are teaching," added Joseph C. Vaughan, who heads a group within the National Institute of Education (nie) that studies staff development. "Unfortunately, there's often an obvious mutual lack of up-to-date information."

Moreover, Mr. Vaughan pointed out, few school-system staff developers are familiar with recently introduced strategies for working with longtime teachers to improve their teaching.

A second, related, problem, critics note, is the poor quality of leadership at the school-system level.

"The level of central-office coordination is abysmal," said Arthur A. Hyde, co-author of a recent nie study of the staff-development programs of three urban school systems. "No one is in charge. Instead, there is often a series of individual fiefdoms. It is not unusual to find staff-development leaders who are unaware of the activities of their colleagues, even when they are demanding the time and energy of the same teachers. This is especially true of federally sponsored programs, which limit training to teachers teaching targeted subjects" such as vocational education.

"Long-term, coordinated, school-systemwide [staff-development] efforts are almost nonexistent," added Syracuse University's associate dean of education, Sam J. Yarger, who has written extensively on the subject.

An apparent indication of the lack of effective staff-development leadership at the school-system level is a dearth of information about how much staff development actually goes on, how much it costs, or what kinds of results it produces.

Very few school systems are able to provide such statistics.

However, thirteen hundred teachers in a cross section of school systems from around the country surveyed in the spring of 1981 by the National Education Association (nea) earned an average of nine semester hours of college credit--primarily from education schools--within the three previous years.

But in recent years, as school systems have begun to offer more of their own staff-development programs, teachers seem to be taking fewer college courses and more locally sponsored workshops.

Over two-thirds of the teachers surveyed by the nea said they attended school-system workshops, while just over 20 percent said they had taken college courses during the school year, down from 45 percent in a similar survey conducted in 1976.

Extensive Development Program

Teachers in the Jefferson County School District in Colorado, which is known for its extensive staff-development program, are involved in an average of only three or four days of professional-improvement activities a year, estimates Roice V. Horning, executive director of the district's program.

In a forthcoming article in the Encyclopedia of Educational Research, Mr. Yarger es-timates the cost of staff development from all sources--federal, state, and local--to be about $150 per teacher per year, or $315 million annually for the 2.1 million public-school teachers.

However, Mr. Hyde in his study contends that when the "total" cost of staff development is calculated--including, for example, the cost of substitute teachers, resulting salary increases, and the cost of instructors--the price is more than $1,000 per teacher per year, or more than $2 billion for the nation's entire public-school teaching force. Other experts suggest that the annual cost of staff development lies somewhere between these high and low estimates.

A third problem, observers say, is that staff development has traditionally been a low priority for school systems.

"Whenever there is a budget crunch, staff development is frequently one of the first areas to be cut back," says Mr. Vaughan of nie

A recent example: The South Carolina school superintendents' association last month recommended cutting back on staff-development training as one of a number of ways the state's school systems can cope with a loss of $32 million in state education aid.

Those familiar with staff development, however, say that lack of consensus on what constitutes effective staff development, uninspired leadership, and the proliferation of different staff-development providers are only symptoms of the major reason for its poor quality: a near-total lack of accountability.

"No one--the school systems, the ed schools, the teacher unions--sees it as their job to make sure staff development works," said Mr. Yarger of Syracuse University.

This is nowhere better illustrated than in the system--written into virtually every collective-bargaining contract in the country--that allows teachers to earn pay increases by earning college-course credits, and increasingly, school-system credits.

Upgrading Teachers' Skills

Endorsed by many as a legitimate way of upgrading teachers' skills, the system has existed in school districts for several decades, becoming a virtual fait accompli even before the advent of widespread collective bargaining in the 1960's.

While some argue that school systems use financial incentives for inservice training as a way to avoid the sticky issue of linking teacher pay raises to classroom performance, the teachers' unions staunchly support the incentive system.

But in practice, staff-development personnel admit, the relevance of the college credits submitted for salary increases or where they are earned is rarely checked.

"In most school districts, teachers can take anything they want for salary credit," said Ms. Dillon-Peterson, the Lincoln schools' staff-development director. "Usually you do not even have to get prior approval or give anyone any feedback about what you have taken."

Adds John F. Brown, executive secretary of the California Commission for Teacher Preparation and Licensing: "Pretty much anything goes."

Courses used to gain pay raises (but never taken) by 43 Los Angeles-area teachers charged with fraud last spring included "Chinese Myth and Fantasy" (claimed by physical-education teachers), "Athletic Coaching Seminar in Basketball" (claimed by non-physical-education teachers), and "Dance Seminar for Teachers."

In Los Angeles, teachers can add approximately $1,000 to their annual salary for every 14 college credits they earn, until they reach a maximum salary of $26,850. Other school systems across the country employ similar arrangements.

Says Mr. McDonald, who is now conducting research and evaluations for the New York City Teacher Centers Consortium as a research professor at Fordham University: "You know [as a teacher] that if you sit in the class, you'll get the credits. You will tolerate garbage, because at the end of the course you will get a raise. ... Everybody needs an extra buck; salaries are low; [this arrangement] invites people to accumulate credits as quickly as possible. Getting [graduate] credits is a form of moonlighting."

According to Ms. Dillon-Peterson and others, some school systems are starting to tighten up their programs, giving their teachers pay raises only for courses that are related to the subject they teach. But despite the scandal last March, the Los Angeles school system to date has not taken any action to discipline the teachers involved or to tighten up its pay-raise-for-credit system.

Teachers agree that low salaries force them to accumulate as many salary-scale credits as they can.

"The reward system is all wrong," says Sharon Robinson, nea's director of professional development. "You give teachers a pittance for keeping graduate schools of education open."

(The average salary of an American teacher--who has an average of about 13 years' experience--was $18,976 for the 1981-82 school year.)

Teachers say repeatedly that the college and school-system courses they are forced to take are too often irrelevant to their classroom and personal needs.

"If teachers feel they are having these courses imposed on them, they will go and get the credits as quickly and cheaply as possible," argues Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

But because there are pay increases at the end of those courses, the unions support the raise-for-credits arrangement aggressively at the bargaining table.

Although both major teachers' unions offer some training seminars and workshops for their members, they claim that school systems have the ultimate reponsibility for staff development.

"We simply do not have the resources to work with every classroom teacher," says Ms. Robinson of the nea

And both unions argue that only when teachers are given a greater role in designing and delivering staff development, will they take it seriously.

Education Schools Criticized

The education schools, which offer most of the graduate courses taken by classroom teachers, are also being criticized for exploiting the raises-for-credit arrangement.

David Imig, executive director of the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, an organization which represents 730 of the 1,330 teacher-training programs in the country, points out: "The competition for students is intense. If [an education school] want[s] to get its share, [it will] provide a good course that is entertaining and as easy as possible--a course where students know they will get an 'A.' There is some incentive to make [extension courses] Mickey Mouse."

Often, extension courses are taught not by education-school professors, but by local school-system employees.

"The education faculty hire local people to teach the courses, then they hand out the degrees," said Mr. Imig.

"Maintaining control over extension programs is a major problem," observes John H. Peterson, who heads the office of private post-secondary education in the California department of education. "There is a wide gap in communication that no one is looking at."

Ottawa University was one of the colleges that offered extension courses taken by the 43 indicted Los Angeles teachers. Its campus is in Kansas, it offers its education extension couses in California, and it administers them from Arizona.

Frederick Zook, dean of Ottawa's Phoenix branch, said that the person hired by the university on a commission basis to organize the extension courses in the Los Angeles area "abused the trust" of the university.

Other indications of the questionable quality of some extension courses are not hard to find:

Monmouth College in New Jersey, which was recently censured by the state's department of higher education, has allowed teachers to earn credits by submitting written summaries of workshop sessions at the annual New Jersey Education Association convention in Atlantic City.

The University of Central Arizona--a Ph.D.-granting "university" with a two-person faculty--was closed under a consent decree in 1980 under the Arizona Consum-er Fraud Act--but not before some 50 "Ph.D.'s" were granted to school administrators who are now working in 26 states. The degrees were not revoked when the school closed.

Earlier this year, the North Carolina board of higher education was rebuffed by the state's supreme court in its efforts to regulate courses offered in the state by Nova University of Florida.

In a report, the board said the Nova extension program provided insufficient faculty contact with students, a shallow curriculum, and an inadequate library and other facilities.

Nova often hires professors to fly into an area for a weekend to conduct classes as part of its nationwide extension program.

The amount of time teachers spend in a classroom--or, in some cases, a hotel room--in order to earn these extension credits "borders on the ridiculous," according to Helen W. Hartle, director of staff development for the New York State department of education.

Says Mr. McDonald: "With a lot of these courses, you come in Friday, leave Sunday, and you have three credits."

Last spring, New Jersey's chancellor of higher education, T. Edward Hollander, appointed an ad hoc committee to investigate the quality of graduate programs in education in the state.

Says Mr. McDonald, who is the chairman of the committee: "There are a lot of shallow degrees around. There's an M.A. here, an M.A. there; there's one for everyone under the sun." (Fifty percent of the nation's teachers hold a master's degree.)

In an attempt to stop the growth of superficial extension courses, New York several years ago passed a law that forbids schools from outside the state to teach or even advertise college courses in New York unless they have been approved by the state's board of regents. A similar law will go into effect in California in July 1983.

Mr. Yarger estimates that there are approximately 100,000 graduate courses in education offered each year on campuses and in extension programs. And many, but not all, of the questionable extension courses are offered by colleges that do not have national accreditation.

The quality of staff development sponsored by school systems themselves has also been harshly criticized.

"Most [school district-sponsored staff development] consists of workshops or lectures by consultants who blow in, blow up, and blow out," said Kathleen K. Yeats, of the California education department's office of staff development. "It is questionable if it has any lasting effect."

Added Marilyn Rauth, director of the educational-issues department of the American Federation of Teachers: "When I was teaching, someone from a publishing company came in and tried in six hours to teach all the English teachers in the school how to use transformational grammar. Then we never saw him again. That's typical."

Moonlighting education-school professors, school-system administrators, and a variety of private consulting firms are also being hired by school systems to conduct such "one-shot" lectures and workshops.

Increasingly, and often out of dissatisfaction with the performance of the education schools, school systems are offering their own semester- or year-long courses, often for salary credits.

But while some systems--such as Montgomery County in Maryland--have extensive and seemingly sophisticated programs, these courses also too often lack rigor.

For example, North Carolina's Charlotte-Mecklenburg district gives its teachers credit for such courses as "Personal Security/Self-Protection" and "Pre-Retirement Training for Teachers"--useful courses perhaps, critics admit, but not very academic.

Last year, teachers in Minnesota's Mahtomedi school system earned staff-development credits by taking part in strike meetings. The credits were granted by the system's recertification committee under state guidelines that allow teachers to earn credits for volunteer work within their professional association.

And while the District of Columbia school system this fall, through its teacher center, will grant recertification credits for such courses as "Reading Across the Content Areas," it will also award credits for "Sewing Techniques for Men and Women."

For their part, state education officials usually have no say in the standards school systems set for the work teachers do to earn pay raises, except when the courses are also taken for certification.

To obtain certification, teachers must take courses from state-approved programs. The approval procedure usually consists of a periodic review of a college's facilities and resources.

Many staff-development experts are skeptical about the recent moves by many states to make teachers--in the name of improved teaching and accountability--take more courses in order to keep their licenses.

"Those sorts of formal regulations are pretty marginal in affecting the quality of teaching; you get a lot of pro forma compliance," says Mr. Sykes of nie "If someone gives teachers a choice, they are going to take what is most convenient."

In most cases, states are merely mandating more of the types of staff development that are so widely considered ineffective.

For example, Louisiana this year has spent $80 million on a controversial new program that pays teachers to take college courses.

In fact, critics of the current system point out, not only has the policy of giving pay raises to teachers who earn college credits largely failed as a means of promoting better classroom performance, it is also rapidly losing its effectiveness as a way of encouraging teachers to participate in any staff development at all.

As the nation's teaching force ages, it is argued, more and more teachers are reaching the top of school-system salary scales, and thus losing the monetary incentive to take courses.

Seventy-five percent of Maryland's 40,000 teachers, for example, have credits beyond a master's degree and are no longer required by the state to take more courses or workshops.

The final article in this series will review some of the efforts under way to improve the staff-development system.

Vol. 02, Issue 05

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