Taking a step back in professional development

Published on Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Final ExamThe major shift that has taken place in professional development for educators in the last few years has been a movement from inputs to outcomes and from adults to children. In other words, professional learning experiences are now judged by their ability to bolster student achievement. A valuable exercise doesn’t just help the teacher do something differently; it actually results in students doing something differently.

Since the focus is on the classroom, moving the decision-making regarding professional development farther away from teachers doesn’t make sense. But that’s exactly what the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) has proposed.

At the October meeting of the State Board of Education, NJDOE officials unveiled the first set of proposals that were borne out of Gov. Chris Christie’s Education Transformation Task Force. Although the task force recommended over 400 changes to education code and statute, the department began with roughly 40 proposed amendments to the code that governs professional licensure and standards.

A portion of this proposal would change professional development requirements for New Jersey’s teachers while giving them less say in the process. At the same time, the amendments would increase the power of administrators, from a building principal all the way up to the commissioner of education.

First the NJDOE wants to replace the 100-hour per five year requirement with a 20-hour per year requirement. Department officials stated their belief that too many educators “frontloaded” or “backloaded” their hours during the five-year cycle.

Not only does this change reduce a professional’s flexibility in meeting the requirement, it reflects a lack of understanding about the nature and purpose of a teacher’s annual Professional Development Plan (PDP). While the PDP is initially constructed in conjunction with the annual summary conference, it is a living document that is revised as needed. Perhaps the teacher has received a new assignment or an observation by the principal has revealed an additional area for improvement. The current PDP should be revised to support the continuous growth of the teacher.

The department has also recommended the elimination of school and local professional development committees. Instead, a principals and superintendents would have the primary responsibility for building and district PD plans.

This is a step backwards to the top-down system of professional development and undercuts teacher leadership and collaboration. Furthermore, shared leadership ensures buy-in when developing a system of professional learning.

Finally, the NJDOE hopes to replace the N.J. Professional Teaching Standards Board (PTSB) and the Professional Development Advisory Committee for School Leaders with a single State Committee on Professional Learning. While a single committee does make sense, the department also wants to fundamentally alter the composition of this group. Currently, the state is required to accept nominations to the committees from the associations of constituent statewide groups. That means that NJEA members were ensured a voice on the PTSB and the Advisory Committee. Under the state’s proposal, however, the commissioner of education would have total control over the makeup of the committee.

In order for any system to be successful all stakeholders need voice, whether it is at the school, district or state level. Taking professional development decisions out of the hands of educators runs contrary to the progress that has been made in the last decade toward collaborative and meaningful learning experiences for teachers.

See for yourself

Visit the N.J. Department of Education website at www.state.nj.us/education and click on “Educators” for information on current PD standards and requirements.

The NJDOE’s proposed amendments regarding professional development can be found by going to www.state.nj.us/education, clicking on “State Board of Education,” then “Meetings,” “Agenda” and “October 2012 Monthly Public Meeting.”

Read more about NJEA’s resources on professional development for New Jersey educators.


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