On Ways We Want NCLB to Fail

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One of the NCLB provisions gauged by ECS was the law's requirement that states do a better job of ensuring that all teachers receive "high quality" professional development (again, to each state its own definition). ECS reports that not a single state appears to be on track to improve their professional development. An expression comes to mind?Phew!

There's an easy argument to make here that one of the reasons professional development for teachers is so awful is because these state entities thrice removed from the classroom have always been in charge. One can only shudder at the prospect of 50 state departments of education, each happy to take their slice of this $3 billion federally-funded pie, freshly seized with good intentions to do it all better this time around. They'll assemble their usual cast of characters to a series of planning meetings to earnestly debate the differences between good and bad professional development, nodding in agreement over the same tiresome platitudes about "what we now know about good professional development." The results are likely to be an arduous set of directives sent down with much fanfare to the school districts, which in turn will issue equally tortuous memoranda on pink (urgent!) paper that is sent down to the schools.

At the end of this interminable pipeline is the classroom teacher who will once again be required to sit through the state's latest and greatest thoughts on how to improve her classroom. The only difference will be that she can be certain that it meets the state's definition of "high quality professional development" and that she now has to fill out a series of surveys to let the state know how it really did help her to be a better teacher. None of this top-down activity is likely to lead to more productive professional development?since doing so would require that the state and district headquarters withhold their ideas and opinions, however well meaning, and let schools decide what to do within some reasonable accountability structure. There's got to be a responsible way to simply give schools the freedom to decide what they need to do to improve instruction, including the highly effective, but far too simple idea, of buying teachers' time to let them work together.

The US Department of Education is less cynical than we are and has an effort under way to show states how they might start measuring the impact of their professional development. They've funded a $5 million pilot project involving 60 schools in 14 districts across eight states. Officials hope to learn whether software can be used to track and analyze the effectiveness of a district's professional development programs.