Teacher Groups to Ed. Dept.: We Need Guidance on Professional Development

By Stephen Sawchuk — August 02, 2016 3 min read
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A bunch of teacher “voice” groups are, well, sending a loud, clear message to the U.S. Department of Education: Give the states more guidance about how to use the Every Student Succeeds Act to improve teacher training.

The letter was written by the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, Educators 4 Excellence, and America Achieves, among others. It represents their formal comments on the Education Department’s proposed rules for state plans and accountability under ESSA. Many of the groups have been working to increase teachers’ voices in education policy via advocacy and training, although not without controversy.

The proposed regulations spell out all the things each state will need to describe in its “consolidated plan” to receive federal education funding, including under Title I of the law (which supports programs for disadvantaged students) and Title II (which supports teacher quality).

Disagreements over the rules’ proposals for school ratings have been dominating the news, but as it turns out, the regulations also spell out in exhaustive—some would say excruciating—detail what states have to do to meet the law’s teacher quality requirements.

For example, the law requires states to establish plans to ensure that low-income and minority students in Title I schools aren’t taught at disproportionate rates by “ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers,” compared to students enrolled in schools not receiving those funds. So the regulations would require states to establish definitions for all of those terms, and to report annually on the rates, and to highlight major disparities between the groups. That’s much more detailed than anything the agency asked for under previous versions of the law.

For professional development, states have to describe how they’ll implement a “system of growth and improvement for teachers, principals, and other school leaders that addresses induction, development, compensation, and advancement.”

PD Provisions Falling Short?

But the groups think this requirement falls a bit short. They argue that it should “be expanded to specify that professional development must be tailored to each teacher, principal, and leader—focusing on the areas critical to their individual growth and success.”

“We are also concerned that these efforts might be greatly diminished if professional development is not implemented in a manner that teachers find meaningful,” they write.

How might the Education Department do this? For starters, states should be provided with a description of what sustained PD looks like, such as: “a progression of learning sessions coupled with the implementation of strategies in the classroom and subsequent feedback based on classroom observation,” the groups recommend.

And states should be encouraged through regulation to connect their teacher-evaluation systems, if they have them in place, to professional development. (ESSA itself doesn’t require states to set up these systems.)

“To improve, teachers must clearly understand how their performance and growth is measured against high teaching standards. Teacher effectiveness systems offer an excellent opportunity to gather data about teachers’ strengths and weaknesses, and schools and districts should use this data to determine and develop professional development opportunities for teachers,” they write.

Read the full text of the letter here. And then weigh in in our comment section what you think might improve the teacher sections of the regulation.

Photo: Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. listens during a White House ceremony in May honoring the 2016 National Teacher of the Year. —Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP-File

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.