ESSA PD: Shifting to Exemplary Professional Learning

In 2015, when the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaced No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as the federal law guiding education practice, there was much to learn. One of the most powerful aspects of ESSA is the expectation that educator professional development move away from workshop-based training and what I refer to as spray-and-pray PD (tons of options, that may or may not improve learning for children).

ESSA provides the most prescriptive federal definition of high quality professional learning in the nation’s history (Frontline Institute, 2016). The criteria (sustained, intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, classroom focused) were identified based on best practices in professional learning. In a September 2017 Getting Smart blog, What Does Effective Educator PD Look Like?, Julie Keane shared key research that, while never mentioning ESSA, demonstrated strong alignment between effective educator PD and ESSA’s criteria for exemplary professional learning. Learning Forward’s 2016 white paper Moving from Compliance to Agency: What Teachers Need to Make Professional Learning Work also demonstrates the research base for these criteria.

During the 2018 Literacy Academy, the Ohio Department of Education cited Frontline Research & Learning Institute’s Bridging the Gap: Paving the Pathway from Current Practice to Exemplary Professional Learning reports as key guides for educators, districts and organizations as they shift from traditional PD to ESSA-aligned PD practices. While I love these reports and highly recommend them, I also realize that reading over 100 pages of reports is not on high on most administrators’ priority lists.

This infographic from Frontline Institute gives a great summary of the key points from the reports to help familiarize leaders with the six criteria and recommended metrics. I was amazed to learn that only 13% of districts surveyed met the sustained benchmark of more than 3 days spent on an individual professional development topic. Frontline Institute’s research also showed that 40-69 hours of professional development on a specific skill is needed to truly change practice, yet most organizations spend 4.5 hours on a single topic and the total average for PD in an entire year is only 36 hours.

These metrics, really helped drive home the point to me that education (early childhood, K-12 and afterschool/ summer learning) must make significant shifts if we are going to truly change practice so every child thrives. To assist organizations in making this shift, in our next blog, EnvisionEdPlus will share a free tool ESSA Aligned Professional Learning Self Assessment. This self assessment can be used to create a compass reading of current practice. Using this as a guide, leadership teams can begin to plan strategies for where and how best to ‘amp up’ your professional learning. There is no need to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. Instead, continue what is working and focus on making systemic adjustments over the next couple of years.

Throughout the spring, EnvisionEdPlus will share examples of exemplary professional learning in many of the schools, districts and afterschool/summer programs where we are engaged. We hope this series will inspire leaders to think and act in new ways so professional learning is more focused on what educators need to continuously improve teaching and learning so every child succeeds in school – and beyond.

~Michele Timmons President

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