Group Seeks Concerted Strategy For On-the-Job Training

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The nation needs to formulate a plan for improving teachers' on-the-job learning, a paper released last week argues, or face continued frustration in trying to bring all students to higher levels of academic achievement.

The National Staff Development Council is calling for action at the federal, state, and local levels to help educators gain the skills and knowledge they need to teach to higher standards.


"A National Plan for Improving Professional Development" is available at no charge by calling (202) 955-9450.

"In many places, there hasn't been the kind of investment in new, better forms of professional development that we think there ought to be," said Dennis Sparks, the executive director of the 8,500-member organization, based in Oxford, Ohio. "If high levels of learning and quality teaching are to take place in every classroom, that requires new, more powerful forms of professional development."

The paper, released at the council's annual meeting in Dallas Dec. 4-8, includes a set of guidelines drafted by the group to help schools and districts evaluate staff-development programs.

Districts should allocate at least 10 percent of their budgets to staff development, the council recommends. And teachers should spend 25 percent of their time engaged in professional learning activities and collaborating with their colleagues.

Teachers' learning should be embedded in a system with clear, high standards for student learning, the paper says. Administrators and teachers should be held accountable in their annual performance reviews for providing high-quality staff development.

But districts alone can't get the job done, argues the council, which is made up of educators at the district and college level who provide teacher training. It recommends the creation of a federal National Center on Professional Development, housed in the U.S. Department of Education's office of educational research and improvement, to conduct research and advise schools, districts, and states on effective professional development.

Mr. Sparks said last week that the council did not believe the federal government's existing system of educational labs and centers was set up to perform the tasks the council believes are necessary.

"Something needs to pull it all together in one place, make it important, and determine whether it's working or not," he argued.

The council envisions that such a federal center would conduct and monitor research, provide technical assistance to states, evaluate professional-development programs and publish its findings, act as a clearinghouse, and serve as a "home" for the Education Department's award program for model professional-development programs.

Terry K. Dozier, the senior adviser on teaching to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, said the council's recommendations were "very much in line" with initiatives the department has been promoting. The idea of a national center devoted to professional development, she added, "holds a lot of promise."

"The concern has been, especially in the field, that when everybody is responsible, then no one's responsible" for professional development, she said.

Seek Results

At the state level, the paper says, policymakers could enact a series of changes to strengthen teachers' learning, including providing money for mentor programs, increasing funding and time for staff development, and requiring that school improvement plans be linked to teachers' learning plans.

Although states such as Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Missouri recently have raised their spending on professional development, the paper says, much remains to be done.

One promising change, it notes, may lie with new teacher-pay systems that focus on paying teachers for acquiring knowledge, rather than taking additional coursework or obtaining credentials. At the local level, districts and schools should replace the "adult pullout programs" that typify professional development with common planning time that allows teachers to study standards and student work together, the paper says. Above all, the council urges, educators should look for evidence of results when planning and selecting professional-development programs.

The council also has formed advocacy groups in 10 states to press for upgraded professional development and lobby policymakers to embrace practices that enhance student learning.

In addition, the council announced it has received a $363,440 grant from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation in New York City to develop "evaluation tools" to help educators better their decisionmaking on professional development.

Vol. 19, Issue 16, Page 10

Published in Print: December 15, 1999, as Group Seeks Concerted Strategy For On-the-Job Training
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