U.S. Educator Professional Development

Meet Sally: Sally’s story provides context to the requirements of a young educator in the United States. 

Sally has been teaching for five years, and recently accepted a job in the local urban district of 22,000 students teaching 1st grade (Ages 6-7) in a PreK – 8 School. Her New York state (NYS) teaching certification mandates her to complete 175 hours of professional development every five years, reported to NYS. Sally’s school has been identified as a Priority School (Bottom 5% of performing schools in NYS based on state test scores)  requiring here to complete 60 hours of district provided professional development every year with 48 of those hours being completed during the summer months. Sally is observed four times every year through the districts APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) system. Two of those observations come from her building administrator, while two of them come from a district level peer observer. Within the observation rubric, two of the sub-domains are linked to Sally’s continued professional development. She scores well if she is intentionally tailoring her professional development choices to her identified weaknesses. To add one more layer, Sally is completing her masters degree in Literacy and is enrolled in a (3) credit course at a local university once a week after school. This entire summary has only identified the requirements placed on Sally, not the desires that exist within her. Those desires include 21st century learning styles, project based learning at the K-2 level, and genuine engagement of families in the classroom.

Sally’s reality is no longer the exception of a overachieving young educator, it is now the rule. Life long learning is expected and required. Administrators have been required to adapt to this new reality, initiating significant change in educational administration.

  • Professional Certification: Teachers, Districts, and the State Education department must communicate effectively to ensure the teacher is recognized with completing 175 hours of professional development every five years. This communication requires significant systems of tracking and accountability at all levels.
  • Challenging Schools: The state identifies schools that must make significant growth in standardized state test scores and graduation rates. The districts of these schools are then given (3) years to turnaround the school. If significant change is not observed in these three years, the school is in jeopardy of being closed or taken over by the state. In most organizational change literature it requires ten years to observe complete change, yet educators and school administrators have three. This adds a great deal of pressure to a school district and local school, already experiencing significant challenges. Most of the educational literature identifies increasing teacher capacity as the greatest marker for increasing student achievement. Priority Schools must initiate a significant professional development plan for the staff to address weaknesses with the ultimate goal to increase student test scores. (You can see how this comes in direct conflict with the type of professional development teachers may WANT to engage in.)
  • APPR: The heart and intent of the Annual Professional Performance Review system provides a backbone of accountability to an educational system that lacked uniform accountability 10 years ago. Unfortunately, initial intent and successful implementation have not aligned. Going into the fourth year of the APPR system, coherence and implementation soaring, the Governor of NYS has outlined a complete overhaul to the system requiring 50% of the evaluation system to be tied to NYS standardized test scores. This will certainly add another strain to educational settings throughout the state as they provide  professional development to a fatigued teaching core, with the sole purpose of finding anyway possible to increase standardized test scores.

The district, schools, administrators, and teachers able to balance the demands of the state by recognizing need and improving test scores will be considered winners……. but the true challenge will be whether schools are able to do this through the lens of preparing students for a truly dynamic global economy requiring creative thought and innovation.

The deciding question: “If we LEAD and TEACH and LEARN attuned to the 21st century global economy can we increase scores on a static multiple choice test not aligned to 21st century learning modes.” The answer has no definite and although much research has gone into leading and teaching in this manner, there is little proof it will increase standardized test scores. Therefore as administrators and teachers continue to be professionally developed, the organization must question what direction that professional development must take. 21st century global learning vs. Taking a test learning. Unfortunately, this is the reality of an U.S. urban school under the microscope of a state focused on raising test scores.

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