Professional Development | News

Report: Professional Development Needs Reform To Support Common Core

An organization that focuses on advancing professional development for educators has said that it's time for state education leaders to reform their training efforts to address the transition to the Common Core State Standards. Learning Forward, an organization formed in 1969 by a group of staff developers, has introduced a set of free resources to be used by states, districts, and schools to redefine professional development for teachers and others. The initiative is being funded by the Sandler Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the MetLife Foundation.

The Web site, Transforming Professional Learning to Prepare College- and Career-Ready Students: Implementing the Common Core, currently offers links to guides with lessons, slides, and handouts on a number of subjects, including finding time for professional development, managing change, creating learning teams, setting appropriate standards, structuring a professional learning framework, and others. These resources were developed with input from participants in multiple states — Kentucky, Georgia, Illinois, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Utah, and Washington.

At the same time Learning Forward has issued an eight-page policy brief that calls for states to coordinate strategies for teacher training, assessment, and continual improvement.

"We have one tight window of time to ensure that educators have the content knowledge and pedagogical expertise to implement the Common Core," said Executive Director Stephanie Hirsh. "It's time for states to seize the moment and eliminate policy incoherence, set standards to codify and measure good professional learning practice, and develop the policy framework to provide sustained, intensive, ongoing, job-embedded professional learning in every school."

The organization uses the efforts of Kentucky as a demonstration case for transformation of professional development to address the Common Core. Among the lessons learned:

  • Teaching to the Common Core requires more than simply knowing the standards; it requires that "teachers possess deep understanding of the outcomes expected and the pedagogy required";
  • Integration is vital. In Kentucky, adoption of new standards occurred during Race to the Top grant competition work, updates to the state student assessment system, and other changes. A task force took all of those "moving parts" into consideration as it developed a new model for professional learning;
  • Educators need to drive the changes; teachers themselves need to be in charge of the design, implementation, and ongoing improvements;
  • All stakeholders need to participate in the reform process. In Kentucky the professional development task force included representation from the Department of Education, the Teacher Advisory Board, multiple associations, as well as universities and local school districts;
  • The bulk of communication needs to be educator to educator to authenticate how the new practices work in real life. Kentucky, for example, recommends the creation of school day schedules that support collaborative professional learning;
  • To sustain changes in professional development, states must first build consensus around policy in this area and leadership buy-in; otherwise, the model risks diminishment as priorities shift; and
  • Technology plays an important role. For example, in Kentucky, the state's Web-based integrated instructional support system and educator development suite provides personalized, just-in-time "supports" for educators aligned with content standards.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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