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Professional Development

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By Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director, Learning Forward

A few weeks ago I had the honor of presenting to many leaders at the U. S. Department of Education who agreed that professional learning can and must be improved. They also agreed that it is essential to promote, support and sustain the changes we need to see made in schools. But what are those changes? Just as we identify shifts for student learning called for by the Common Core, what are the required shifts that need to accompany them for professional learning?           

In planning professional learning that leads to changed educator practices and improved student results, there are five shifts that must occur. These changes in practices will occur in schools and school systems that align planning, implementation, and evaluation with ...

The latest release of international test results has once again stirred the controversy of whether or not American students can successfully compete academically in a global context. Before we condemn our educational system, however, we must first understand exactly what the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) reveals about student performance and whether a fair comparison can be made between American 15-year-olds and those in other countries.

Between 2009 and 2013, the performance of American students on PISA did not change. Overall, U.S. teens were found to be very good at basic tasks, but they fell short when engaging in critical thinking and deeper learning. PISA also shows that even though the United States has slightly closed the achievement gap for poor or disadvantaged children, the U.S. gap is still much larger than in most top-performing countries. (These findings are consistent with previous results on state summative assessments and the National Assessment of Educational Progress.) Further, the PISA analysis suggests that schools should focus more attention on developing students’ analytical skills in concert with state summative assessments. It also speaks to the need for more equitable distribution of ...

Each month during the 2014 calendar year, the Learning First Alliance will be highlighting our members’ expertise and resources around the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. This month, we spoke to a team of individuals at Learning Forward (formerly the National Staff Development Council) to showcase professional learning and its critical role in helping teachers across the country transition to teaching in new and different ways to meet the new standards.

Professional learning has always been an integral component of strong learning systems, allowing teachers to grow and evolve their methods of instruction in response to student learning. It also allows teachers to use student data to guide their practice. Strong professional learning practices guide the implementation of any standards and changes in classrooms, and in light of the rapid rollout of Common Core, they will, once again, be essential. Learn more about professional learning and how it supports teachers and students alike by reading our conversation with Learning Forward Senior Consultant Joellen Killion. Special thanks to Dale Hair, Victoria Duff and Deborah Childs-Bowen from Learning Forward for their expertise in developing the interview content and structure.

Public Schools Insights (PSI): What does the general public need to know about professional learning and its role in implementing the Common Core State Standards or other learning initiatives?

Joellen Killion: Professional learning is the means for developing and expanding educators’ knowledge, skills, and practices. Because the new content standards increase expectations for students both in terms of depth of content and application of content, educators need to refine their instructional practices to ensure that all students achieve the standards and leave school college and career ready. Any new initiative, such as Common Core, a new evaluation system, or any other reform, depends on the capacity of educators to implement it. Professional learning is the primary strategy available to every school to support continuous educator development. Yet not all ...

By Joellen Killion, Senior Advisor, Learning Forward

States and districts are deep into the implementation of their educator evaluation systems. The backbone of these programs includes competent, skillful evaluators; high and explicit performance standards; constructive feedback; and individually focused professional learning aligned to individual areas for improvement. Individually focused professional learning holds both potential promises and pitfalls.

Among the promises is the opportunity to personalize learning to address the unique needs of each educator. Well-designed and developed systems provide access to a suite of differentiated professional learning opportunities and support to change practice. The ability to meet this promise depends on a rich educator development system that uses educator, student, and system data to establish individual improvement goals. This system must also identify and make available learning opportunities aligned with all performance standards and indicators, appropriate to all grade levels, disciplines, roles, and school and district contexts within which educators work. Such a system holds the individual educator responsible for his or her own growth, development, and results.

Individually focused professional learning, while addressing individual learning needs, has potential pitfalls. First, it may contribute to less collaboration and greater fragmentation among educators within a school community as ...

Earlier this week, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released the results of the 2012 Programme for International Assessment (PISA). As predicted, the results show little change in the performance of U.S. students since the assessment was last administered in 2009.

While much of the media coverage of the release focused on PISA’s ranking of education systems, with the U.S. remaining below many international peers in performance in mathematics, reading and science, the education community responded differently, focusing not on numerical results but on the lessons we can learn from OECD’s research on the policies and practices that high-performing nations use in successful efforts to improve student achievement – policies and practices that suggest a strategy for education reform that is much different than the one that we as a nation have been operating under for more than a decade.

As American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten said in a statement, “none of the top-tier countries, nor any of those that have made great leaps in student performance, like Poland and Germany, has a fixation on testing ...

Cheryl S. Williams's picture

Learning from PISA

The Learning First Alliance (LFA), a partnership of leading education organizations representing more than 10 million parents, educators and policymakers, has released the following statement:

Today, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the latest results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a test of reading literacy, mathematics, and science given every three years to fifteen-year-olds in the United States and approximately seventy countries and economies worldwide.

It is vital that parents, educators, policymakers and other education stakeholders view these results in context. While the ranking of the United States is disappointing and reflects little change in how our nation’s students are performing relative to their peers around the world, this ranking is only one indicator of student achievement. Other measures show significant improvement in the performance of U.S. schools in recent years. The U.S. estimated on-time graduation rate has improved dramatically since 2000 – the first year of PISA. In addition, on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), U.S. 4th and 8th graders made significant gains in math scores between 1995 and 2011.

We would also like to remind stakeholders that there is valuable information in the PISA report beyond the rankings that we should not ignore, including the results of OECD research on the policies and practices that high-performing nations use ...

By Kristen Amundson, Executive Director, National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE)

I had no idea my first slide was going to turn out to be a laugh line.

Let me explain: When you give a lot of speeches, you pretty much know when people are going to laugh. So as I prepared my presentation to board members attending NASBE’s New State Board Member Institute, I built in a couple of places where I expected at least a smile from the audience.

But Slide #1 was not on my list. It read: “So they told you this job would take one day a month.”

And it evoked more than just a chuckle. They laughed. Out loud.

You see, although these 35 new state board of education members had been on the job for less than a year, all of them realized their responsibilities take much more than the one day a month typically scheduled for a meeting. They have to ...

By Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director, Learning Forward

Recently a reporter asked me how teachers are supposed to be able to distinguish among all the professional development opportunities that claim to be aligned with the Common Core standards. While I could refer the reporter to many resources on what constitutes effective professional learning as well as how to evaluate opportunities, this isn't what she was asking. Here's how I responded and what I would tell the many educators who are trying to answer this for themselves. 

While I hope that very few teachers are trying to make these decisions in isolation from supervisors and colleagues, I also understand not everyone works in ideal circumstances. Therefore, I offer the guiding questions below to assist teachers in making the best decisions possible. First, here are three prerequisites to consider before you go ...

One of the greatest challenges that the education community faces in implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative is ensuring that the education workforce is ready to help students succeed under these new, higher standards.

Facing this challenge requires providing the current workforce with high-quality professional learning opportunities, something we talk about a great deal at the national level. But it also requires preparing new educators to enter classrooms ready to teach under the CCSS, something we talk about very little. How are the higher-education institutions that train the vast majority of our nation’s teachers working to ensure the successful implementation of the Common Core?

To help answer this question, we contacted Linda McKee, Director of the Teacher Preparation and Certification Program at Tulane University. McKee is currently serving as the president of the Louisiana Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (an affiliate of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, AACTE) and as the president of Louisiana Learning Forward. She collaborated with two of her colleagues at Tulane – Holly Bell, Coordinator for Assessment & Accreditation and an early childhood education faculty member, and James Kilbane, a professor for secondary education in math and science – in responding to several questions on how university-based teacher preparation programs in general, and Tulane in particular, are preparing educators to teach in the age of the Common Core.

Public School Insights (PSI): As a faculty member at an institution of higher education, you see firsthand the products of the nation’s high schools. Do you think that the Common Core will help ensure students are better prepared for college or career? Why or why not?

McKee, Bell, and Kilbane: The Common Core (CC) is more rigorous than we have previously seen in Louisiana, and if implemented correctly, the new standards could make a difference. We desperately need to make a difference in students’ learning to think. The difficulty with the CC lies in educators understanding the aims of the standards and being able to implement them with fidelity. The Common Core standards represent a dramatic change from the specialty area standards that most states had developed and were testing. The challenge is that those standards were not being met, so we question if the CC standards will be met any better without ...

By Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director, Learning Forward

At the beginning of her teaching career, my daughter shared with me that she would never want to be a "staff developer." She told me how people were not happy with the staff development required by the school system. They wanted time to work in their schools and with their colleagues to study their curriculum, plan their lessons, and problem solve around situations facing their school and their students.

What she was expressing was precisely the definition of effective professional learning. That was five years ago and she was in her second week of her first year of teaching. Today, her job is, indeed, staff developer. She serves as a master teacher in a Title 1 elementary school. While the challenges are different and often require additional resources, what her colleagues want for their students is no different than what other educators around the world desire. ...

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