Thursday, March 12, 2009

Wacky Wednesday (Yes, I Know It's Thursday)

Wacky Wednesday. That's what the locals call Wednesday afternoons when teachers in Wyoming's Laramie County School District 2 send the kids home early in order to participate in professional development (Casper Star-Tribune: "Teacher learning debated in Wyo").
Judging from a new report by the National Staff Development Council, though, the district's elementary teachers have been out front in the United States with their in-school training. According to the report, American teachers spend about 80 percent of their time teaching and only about 20 percent on those other things that teachers do -- planning lessons, talking to other teachers and improving their skills. Seldom do they engage in as much at-school training as the teachers in Laramie County 2.

In most European and Asian countries, meanwhile, teacher training is commonly part of the regular school week. Teachers in those countries typically spend less than half of their working time teaching, according to the council's report. Yet the students in many of those countries, who spend less time in class than American students, outscore their American counterparts in math and science, the report said.
Now, given that so much professional development in American schools is of the spray 'n' pray, one-size-fits-all variety, skepticism is most certainly warranted. But given this evidence that the Laramie district's approach to PD was of much higher quality, it is unfortunate that the local school board took the easy route out of this PR challenge by eliminating this sanctioned time for educators.

It seems to me that the middle ground to this false choice -- between eliminating time during the school day for teacher to participate in professional development or cutting learning time for kids -- would be to lengthen the school day -- or the school year. It's an idea that Education Secretary Arne Duncan has discussed. A school superintendent in Mississippi has even proposed year-round schools.

The National Staff Development Council report can be found here.

And here is some good analysis here on the length of the school year from Kevin Carey at the Quick and The Ed.

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