IT Management Opinion

Put Professional Learning Front and Center in ESSA Plans

By Learning Forward — November 07, 2016 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print
Stephanie Hirsh

As states prepare the first drafts of their consolidated plans as required by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), I encourage them to recognize the powerful opportunity this new law provides to rethink their learning systems. States can leverage all funding streams to advance a coherent vision of continuous learning and improvement -- one grounded in the new definition of professional development outlined in the law, and one that will enable them to achieve ESSA’s goals of equity and excellence.

I am also confident that those educators who understand and appreciate the importance of continuous learning and improvement in ensuring success for every student will be the most passionate and articulate spokespersons for the definition and the system necessary to support it. At the school level, this new definition envisions teams of teachers who share collective responsibility for students engaging in continuous cycles of learning and improvement that enable all students to master or exceed high standards of performance.

The definition describes that learning as sustained, research-based, classroom-focused, and job-embedded. The learning that occurs within and across teams of educators meets the newly required standards of evidence and effectiveness and provides the essential foundation for growth and improvement of educators and their students.

To make this a reality for all educators, every school must be a learning school and every school system a learning system. State education agencies must ensure that this is the goal for any new policies and practices they develop. This will include advancing a shared vision for learning systems at all levels, prioritizing building leadership capacity, allocating resources in new ways, using data for planning and evaluation purposes, and implementing and managing the change process.

Unfortunately, we have heard from stakeholders that a few states are giving little attention to these issues. Due to the limited attention to professional development within the proposed regulations and guidance, it is understandable. Yet we all know that no state will achieve its goals absent an effective continuous improvement strategy. Congress did not include the term professional development in the law more than 65 times for states to ignore their responsibilities for it, and they did not write the phrase evidence-based more then 60 times for the same response.

While the most effective educator learning and improvement take place at the school level, there are at least three things states can do to ensure the equitable access to quality experiences and support for all educators.

  1. Identify criteria that must be addressed before any professional learning is approved and funded. More than 35 states have adopted Learning Forward’s Standards for Professional Learning or their own guidelines that provide the essential conditions and qualities of professional learning that leads to change in practice and performance by educators and students. States must hold all professional learning to their own evidence-based guidelines.
  2. Determine what and how data will be collected to monitor the quality and assess the impact of professional development educators experience. Data collection and learning from professional learning implemented is foundational to the professional learning cycle described in the definition. With this data, we will continue to learn what is working -- and what is not. With this data, we can keep our commitment to equity and excellence because we will know whether all educators are getting the support they need to achieve the outcomes.
  3. Establish a feedback system to inform an improvement process. Continuous improvement is another underlying theme in ESSA. When states engage educators affected by its policies and regulations, they can learn what is working and where improvements can be made. Ongoing stakeholder engagement processes will improve the policy-to-practice link.

Research has shown that professional learning, when designed and implemented well, improves educator performance and student learning. And whether we focus on implementing new college- and career-ready standards, higher-quality early learning, or turning around persistently failing schools, building educators’ capacity will be a necessary core strategy to achieve these outcomes.

Stephanie Hirsh
Executive Director, Learning Forward

The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch 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.
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
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

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

IT Management From Our Research Center Don't Buy 'Stupid Stuff:' Essential Advice for Technology Purchasing
School districts have more digital devices on their hands than ever before. Here's what they can do to get the biggest bang for their buck.
8 min read
RESET 4 TechFunding lead Image 1156179329
Alan Yrok/iStock
IT Management Download How to Make the Best Tech Decisions for Schools: A Downloadable Guide
Identify gaps, assess available solutions, solicit input from end users, and test drive new products, services, or approaches.
1 min read
IT Management Schools Are Flush With Stimulus Money. Will They Waste It on Unproven Technology?
Districts are throwing billions of dollars at ed tech that could be ineffective, underutilized, and come with hidden long-term costs.
8 min read
Conceptual finance image of large group of flying money of American one hundred dollar bills in binary coded tunnel
iStock/Getty Images Plus
IT Management Goodbye, Adobe Flash: What Educators Need to Know
Programs that run on Adobe Flash will no longer work on any devices or browsers after Jan. 12.
2 min read
Image shows laptop computer with Adobe Flash headstone
F.Sheehan/Education Week + Getty