Funds needed to comply with fed education act
I have to admit that when I heard of the Carson City School District’s proposed late-start schedule for professional development, I was angry. Many of us were. The first I heard of the plan was in the Nevada Appeal. In a classic top-down decision, neither the district office nor the Ormsby County Education Association had bothered to inform rank and file teachers that such a plan was being considered.
I have since learned that some time ago, district administrators and principals attended a conference at which they learned about various researchÐbased professional development models. A committee looked at the research and then proposed the late-start alternative schedule, considered the “Cadillac model.”
If the committee had taken its previous cooperative learning training to heart, they would have remembered the adage, “None of us is as smart as all of us.” Perhaps they would have sought more comments before going public with the plan. Nonetheless, I’m glad they eventually compromised on the early-release schedule. It is similar to minimum days and easier on working parents of elementary schoolchildren, including teachers with young children of their own.
I’ve calmed down a bit now, but not entirely. I recognize the value of a long-term, comprehensive and coordinated program of professional development. I also recognize the challenges faced by the district under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Trying to teach an increasingly diverse population and ensure that all students meet higher standards while providing high-quality staff development requires innovation. Unfortunately, although NCLB dictates precisely what the district must do, it still does not pay for it, further constraining the options.
Without increased revenue, Carson schools face tough choices. Paying teachers for the extra time spent in the 22.5 hours of workshops would cost close to $300,000. Just one extra contract day would cost $136,000. What should the district cut? Teachers? Supplies? Administrators? Building maintenance? Support staff? Busses? Moreover, what hoped-for programs will never see the light of day? Full-day kindergarten? Class-size reduction? Updated textbooks and technology? Forget about a raise.
Currently, Carson City’s Professional Development Center, under the direction of Carol Harris, provides quality workshops after school, on weekends and during the school day. In addition, mentors coach new hires through their first year.
Admittedly, what has been lacking is a mandatory, coordinated and systematic program focused on the goals outlined in the district’s improvement plan. Each site has done its own staff development, but we rarely get a chance to meet with teachers from other schools – even those who teach the same subject or grade.
When I ran into Paula Baum, the wonderful pre-K teacher at Mark Twain School, at Target last week, we talked about school, of course. Paula called it a “grade-level meeting.” Such events should not be left to chance; they should be built into our ongoing professional development. Collaboration allows us to solve problems together, find out what has worked for others, align curricula, and integrate the latest research into our own classroom practice. It means not reinventing wheels at every school site. It is an efficient use of time.
Quality professional development also provides ongoing – not one-shot – instruction and feedback for teachers. I don’t expect my kindergartners to learn the entire alphabet in the first three days of school. I introduce it a little at time, linking it to things they already know, like their names. Then we practice and review repeatedly.
Learners, whether they are 5 or 50, are unique and come with a distinct set of skills and experiences. Each is at a different starting point. The learner must process new learning and make it fit with their prior knowledge and beliefs. When the training is well-designed, teachers not only learn new techniques, but also get support while applying them in their own classrooms. If the technique doesn’t work the first time, they know that soon they will meet again to figure out how to make it work.
I have no problem with the goals and methods of the proposed professional-development program – little bits, focused, collaborative, spread throughout the year. I do have a problem with losing time with my students. I worry that some kindergartners will miss entire days because their parents simply can’t rearrange their schedules to get them to or from school. Moreover, I worry about alienating a public that frankly seems all too eager to question the motives of the public school system.
Although the district’s plan may not please everyone, it may be the best we can do under current conditions – real people, real budgets and real problems with bad legislation. Unless and until we can convince lawmakers to either fully fund or throw out NCLB, it’s something we all have to live with.
So maybe I am still a little angry. Are you? What are we going to do about it?
n Lorie Schaefer teaches kindergarten at Seeliger School. During this Teacher Appreciation Week, she wishes to thank her colleagues and her students from whom she learns something new every day.