A Letter in Support of Draft Regulations for Implementation of the Every Student Succeeds ActAugust 1, 2016
On behalf of teacher advocacy organizations across the nation, we are pleased to respond to the request for comments regarding the draft regulations for implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). We want to start by expressing our appreciation for the prioritization of teacher training and professional learning in the regulations. The undersigned organizations are leaders in the teacher advocacy field and have done extensive work advocating for more comprehensive, collaborative and meaningful professional development for teachers.
We support the provision in the regulations requiring states to describe how local education agencies “[implement] a system of professional growth and improvement for teachers, principals, and other school leaders.” But we believe that this provision should be expanded to specify that professional development must be tailored to each teacher, principal and leader—focusing on the areas critical to their individual growth and success. We are also concerned that these efforts might be greatly diminished if professional development is not implemented in a manner that teachers find meaningful. To ensure implementation of impactful professional learning that improves teaching practices and student outcomes, it is necessary to provide the following additional guidance to states:
1. Require states to set a high standard for professional development that aligns with the definition outlined by ESSA.
High-quality professional development is critical to improving student outcomes, educator equity, and teacher retention. The law defines professional learning as “sustained, intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, and classroom-focused.” We believe this definition will help re-shape the professional learning experiences of many teachers, but also that the definition of “data-driven” must be clarified.
Data-driven professional learning should be based on the results of teacher effectiveness systems and truly tailored to each teacher’s specific areas in which he or she needs to improve. To make this a reality, it is important that state and local education agencies align their definition of professional development and provide evidence of the alignment. They should also be provided with a description of what “sustained” professional development looks like. For example, “a progression of learning sessions coupled with the implementation of strategies in the classroom and subsequent feedback based on classroom observation.” A series of professional learning sessions have proven to be more effective and impactful than stand alone opportunities.
2. Provide additional guidance to more specifically outline the criteria of a professional growth and improvement system.
While ESSA’s definition of professional development lays the groundwork for meaningful teacher growth and improvement, the regulations should expand on the list of the criteria of professional learning based on recommendations from Learning Forward.
Their recommendations call for regulations that evaluate the impact of professional development as a critical component, along with a consideration of professional learning as a cycle of continuous improvement, not a set of separate, and often disconnected activities. Educators must gain more than just knowledge and skills in order for students to make gains in learning — they must change and apply the knowledge in their instruction. To do this, professional learning systems should be a series of opportunities that build upon teachers’ previously learned skills and strategies, so that they are continuously growing and improving. This allows teachers to become true experts in their craft, leading to better student outcomes.
3. Instruct state and local education agencies to use teacher effectiveness systems as tools to help teachers determine their professional learning focus.
Teacher effectiveness systems should be part of the larger system of professional learning that supports teachers in the areas they need to improve. A 2015 study by The New Teacher Project which included a survey of more than 10,000 teachers and 500 school leaders, as well as an analysis of professional development offerings and systems, revealed that school systems are not effectively helping teachers understand how they can improve, and in some cases, that there is room for improvement at all.
States and districts that already employ robust effectiveness systems need guidance on how to align professional development with the high standards teachers are measured against. To improve, teachers must clearly understand how their performance and growth is measured against high teaching standards. Teacher effectiveness systems offer an excellent opportunity to gather data about teachers’ strengths and weakness, and schools and districts should use this data to determine and develop professional development opportunities for teachers.
4. Strongly encourage states to prioritize and support collaborative systems of professional learning.
OECD studies illustrate that countries that prioritize time for teachers to collaborate and work together have more skilled teachers and better student outcomes. States should incentivize local education agencies to allow for time in the daily lives of teachers and school leaders for collaboration, reflection, and cooperative planning. This time should not involve facilitated learning sessions, but merely time for teachers to reflect on their learning, discuss implementation of strategies, share best practices, provide feedback, and utilize their peers as resources.
A 2016 report by the Learning Policy Institute calls attention to the positive impact of teacher collaboration and collegial relationships on student achievement. It provides evidence that teachers improve the most in their first few years of teaching, and that more seasoned teachers are helpful resources and are effective in helping novice teachers improve. This illustrates the incredible opportunity that is presented in helping inexperienced teachers become more effective, simply by providing them with guidance from veteran teachers. This also may be effective in increasing teacher retention.
These regulations provide a valuable opportunity to help states implement meaningful and impactful systems of professional development that will help teachers improve their practice, leading to better student outcomes. We appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback and to help shape the implementation of ESSA.