PD in the time of the Common Core

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I saw multiple articles on professional development (PD) yesterday. I’m glad PD has hit the radar. Creating personalized PD may become the next wave — and it is so overdue.

For  non-teacher readers, a bit more information may help here. School districts pay for seminars and other presentations called professional development. Districts may offer their own professional development. Rarely, a teacher might stumble on a free, outside professional development opportunity, but few free seminars remain. Many consultants make their living offering PD activities and seminars. Some PD may be mandatory.  You can get a sub for PD during the school year, assuming a sub is willing to take your class. Some development occurs during the summer.

One article I read yesterday related to wasted PD opportunities. I’m afraid it made me laugh. Wasted? As far as I am concerned, I completely squandered almost all my PD from the last three years. Except for three brief interludes of one day apiece, when I learned theory and new practices for bilingual education, nearly every single minute of PD I experienced involved either the Common Core or the Charlotte Danielson rubric. What is the Common Core? How can you align to Common Core standards? HOW WILL YOU PREPARE FOR COMMON CORE TESTS? Interspersed with these test-focused PDs, I had Danielson Rubric PDs. The Danielson rubric is the teacher evaluation rubric in Illinois and some other states, with its 22 sections and 76 subpoints (or whatever, the numbers are something like that) which the Danielson group has now rearranged into 6 clusters since the first version of that rubric was “unwieldy,” to quote one Danielson speaker, if we want to speak diplomatically. I’d say “unmanageable” might better describe that rubric. The Danielson rubric was hammered into me during PDs, day after day, afternoon after afternoon, sometimes while subs took my classes.

I would  love to be able to go back in time and steer Charlotte Danielson — a very well-intentioned lady, I’m sure — away from education and into archeology or some similar, more harmless field. Anthropology? Etruscan pottery? European architecture?

Kitchen and whatever 009

Let her dig bones or classify shards of pottery. Just, please, please, please, get all these  arbitrary numbers out of the evaluation system. Too often, assistant principals and others are just making up numbers in their offices.

I am certain I spent more than a full teaching week during the last couple of years just learning the Danielson system. We paid their group to give off-site presentations even. That last time, a few teachers were in the audience whose Danielson rubric numbers put them in risk of termination. A couple had been told they were not going to be called back. I remain astounded that those teachers attended. (One was hired back anyway, after going through the hiring process from scratch, another moved to a better job in a nearby district, and a third retired. I am sure others I did not know were sitting in that crowd. I hope they are all doing well.)

Eduhonesty: I suspect some teachers in that room never saw a PD in the last year or two that was not either centered around Danielson or the Common Core. The best part of those repetitive PDs may sometimes be the lunches. That’s not merely sad. It’s outrageous. While we flounder around learning new curricula and new evaluation systems, who is teaching our kids? Subs. The idea behind days lost to PD is that lost class time will be made up later as teachers use newly-learned instructional techniques. But when all those teachers learn are new curricular standards and their own evaluation system, I’d say we can count these PDs as a net loss of instructional time during a period when tests are attacking that time like ravenous barracudas in a test-based feeding frenzy.

One last Danielson observation: No new teacher evaluation system should take weeks to explain. No any-evaluation-system-ever should take weeks to explain. No evaluation system should be sucking time out of the school year, as this one has been doing for a few years now.

Pseudo-data is running amok. We have become enamored of data. But data should not be an end and data should not even be a means — unless that data represents real values. The classroom time lost has become appreciable and the benefit remains completely undemonstrated. If we are going to use test scores to show progress, where are those test scores that demonstrate progress?

They don’t exist. Given all the effort we have put into pushing up those numbers, the lack of real, tangible academic advancement seems scary to me. Could part of that lack of advancement stem from wasted development hours? I’d say absolutely. When a sub takes my day so I can learn how my evaluation system works, I just wasted a day’s learning opportunity for my students.

We need to reclaim professional development and redirect that development toward improved teaching for our students.