Responding to widespread calls for improved training for current teachers, the U.S. Department of Education has given its first-ever awards for excellence in professional development to two schools and three school districts.
The National Awards Program for Model Professional Development showcases local programs that have shown improved student learning, reliance on the latest educational research, and the ability to be replicated.
The five winners are the Lawrence, Kan., public schools; Samuel W. Mason Elementary School in Boston; the San Francisco Unified School District; the Wilton, Conn., public schools; and Woodrow Wilson Elementary School in Manhattan, Kan. Each will each receive a $9,000 award from a fund created with donations from private foundations.
“Too often, professional development is the first thing that’s cut when the budget is tight,” said Terry K. Dozier, the special adviser on teaching to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley.
Ms. Dozier, who oversaw the effort to create the awards, said they serve not only to highlight excellence, “but also to help others make the case that you shouldn’t cut professional development because it really does pay off in the end.”
A five-member panel of experts in professional development chose the winners from a list of finalists. Dennis Sparks, a member of the panel and the executive director of the National Staff Development Council, an Oxford, Ohio-based group, hailed the five programs that won. Each, he said, showed concrete evidence of improvements in student achievement and “leading-edge staff-development practices.”
The winners, chosen from among 129 applicants, range from the 63,800-student San Francisco district to the 273-student Mason Elementary School.
Each of the winners emphasized improvements for students as well as teachers.
“A lot of people are still just giving credit for ‘seat time,’ while our emphasis is on results,” said Sandee Crowther, the division director of evaluation and standards for the 10,000-student Lawrence, Kan., district. “We want to see student progress.”
The district attributes improved test scores at least in part to the smooth running of its 11-year-old professional-development program.
The winning programs were also cited for their unusual approaches to helping teachers manage their time and acquire new skills.
In the 3,300-student Wilton schools in southwestern Connecticut, for example, the district and the teachers’ union renegotiated their contract so that teachers now work a minimum of 40 hours a week rather than 37.5. The change allows for more professional-development time.
“It’s flexible time,” said Joyce Parker, the district’s administrator for elementary curriculum and professional development. Teachers might stay late at a midweek workshop, she said, and compensate for that time by leaving earlier on Friday.
At Samuel W. Mason Elementary School in Boston’s Roxbury section, teachers devote every 10th day to a professional-development project. And all employees at the school must draw up and follow a personal professional-development plan.
Principal Mary L. Russo said the school’s program could easily be used as a model for other schools because it does not call for an infusion of money or handpicked teachers. “It doesn’t rely on lots of extra resources from the district, but relies on the willingness of the faculty to develop and learn new ways of doing things,” she said.
The award program had been in the works for more than a year. More than 60 professional organizations worked with the Education Department to help set up the recognition program. The review process consisted of a first-round review by education experts, site visits to the promising sites by members of the department’s regional laboratories, and a final review by the panel of experts.
A recognition ceremony for the winners has been slated for Feb. 5 in Washington.
Here are the winners of the U.S. Department of Education’s first National Awards Program for Model Professional Development:
- San Francisco Unified School District--The districtwide program is designed to address individual school needs based on an analysis of student data and desired student achievement.
- Wilton, Conn., public schools--The district’s plan offers an extended workweek for teachers, giving them more time on a daily basis to learn new skills.
- Lawrence, Kan., public schools-- A “results based” staff-development program gives credit only for professional-development activities that provide evidence of change in the classroom.
- Woodrow Wilson Elementary School, Manhattan, Kan.--The school works with Kansas State University to focus on the teaching of math, science, and technology.
- Samuel W. Mason Elementary School, Boston--The school’s program requires all staff members, including the principal and the secretaries, to craft personal professional-development plans.