Professional Development is Hot, Hot, HOT!


Professional Development is Hot, Hot, HOT!

Steven Paine, superintendent of education for West Virginia, recently mentioned at a conference that West Virginia requires 18 hours of professional development time for teachers every year. Singapore, he noted, requires 100 hours every year. Left hanging in the air was the question of how to close that gap.

I think we can close that gap by taking advantage of technology—especially the Web—and the tools it is bringing to schools even today. Consider:

  • New technologies allow 24/7 professional development
  • New Web-based systems link educational content and management of professional development

While integrated Web-based professional development systems are in the early stages, it is the technology that all educators should be paying careful attention to. The merger of a variety of PD, assessment, and content companies to provide the new high-quality PD has just begun, and the demand for PD services from school systems is heating up. The result will be that PD will be less about lectures on Wednesday afternoon or graduate courses, and increasingly a mix of Web- and human-delivered content linked to teachers’ needs to address standards.

NCLB’s increased funds for PD, coupled with a demand to improve teacher training, according to measurable evidence, is a major driver for this interest. Schools are looking at implementing management systems that track, help deliver, and measure teachers’ proficiency, knowledge, and skill sets in a much more targeted way. The ultimate aim is to link PD directly to gaps and gains in student achievement. There are companies now attempting to merge content and PD tracking and assessment.

Another major PD theme, then, is the move to the Web. Online systems offer portals and Web-based technologies that capture a lot of other information within school districts, enabling PD administration to be automated, and PD delivery to be more tailored and focused for each teacher. Web technologies also connect PD more closely with systems for assessment, human resources, NCLB, and standards-based teaching.

Professional development isn’t moving wholesale to online delivery, because teachers still want some element of face-to-face contact. However, more and more, we will see a mix of Web and in-person delivery. The utilization of Web tools will enable customization and delivery of PD 24/7, not just on PD days.

There are two types of technology-delivered PD offerings: commercial off-the-shelf systems and custom-built systems. Off-the-shelf systems provide broad functionality and are ready to use. Customized systems require modifications by the vendor to meet specific school district needs, such as linking the program to other data, including student-assessment scores or teacher-retention records. The advantages of off-the-shelf systems are that they are usually less expensive and do not demand a lot of development time. The advantages of customized systems are that they address the specific requirements of a district, such as improving student outcomes or providing teachers with knowledge that they do not have and measuring their learning.

An example of a commercial off-the-shelf product is eSchool Solution’s Electronic Registrar Online (ERO), a tool that automates, monitors, and guides the delivery of PD with features such as 24/7 registration for courses via telephone or the Internet, and tracking of progress against NCLB requirements, state mandates, and district goals.

Another product, TrueNorth Logic’s True Achieve, represents another of the new-generation best-of-breed offerings—it is a customizable product. The Teacher Development System tracks and audits PD; links up the PD system with departments such as HR and finance; and can be used for an up-to-date inventory of a teacher’s progress and remaining training needs.

SchoolNet, a major provider of data-driven instructional-management and curriculum-standards-alignment tools, is seeking to be a key player in the PD arena, especially with its acquisition of AHA! Interactive in 2005. AHA! has been a leading provider of customized PD management systems in K-12. This combination allows SchoolNet to be one of the companies in the K-12 space aggressively pushing a solution that will enable schools to measure the effectiveness of PD through increased student achievement and to target specific gaps in teacher training. SchoolNet’s PD Planner is a separate, Web-based, scalable system that manages and tracks all of a district’s PD. It enables school systems to target PD based on timely student assessment results.

For information on these and other products and solutions, go here. Schools are clamoring for better systems to track training and measure its results. Ed tech companies and school districts are finally getting it—PD must be designed, implemented, and managed so that it impacts student achievement. Will we take the time and spend the money to do so? We need to if we are going to compete with Singapore and other countries.

Eliot Levinson is CEO of the BLE Group, a technology planning and management firm based in Washington, DC.