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TNLI: Action Research: Professional Development: Keeping the "Profession" in "Professional Hours"

by Sheri Scott
Santa Barbara County

AUGUST, 1997

Problems with the California Credential Renewal
The Need for More Meaningful Professional Growth
The Problem
Solutions
Recommendations

Problems with the California Credential Renewal

Many professions require re-licensure of their members, as does the teaching profession. In California, any teacher hired after August 31, 1985 must renew his/her credential every five years. California has been cited as being one of the leading states for its requirements of teacher re-certification. This is particularly disturbing considering the many flaws I see in this system as a teacher who has been re-certified in this state.

Teachers in this state are asked to complete an "individual program of professional growth that consists of a minimum of 150 clock hours of participation in activities that contribute to competence, performance, or effectiveness in the profession of education."

While these standards aim high, in reality, a teacher can obtain those 150 hours very easily with little or no involvement in any significant activities that actually contribute to professional growth. The activities are chosen from at least two of the following categories: (My personal observations about the problems with these categories will be contained in the parenthesis.)

1) Completion of college or university courses, including lower division and extension courses from a two- or four-year college (While this category has good intentions, an extension course at a community college may be a non-rigorous class that doesn't demand the quality of continuing education a professional teacher should have.)

2) Conference, workshops, institutes, or a staff development program (Considering that California has eight staff development days in a school year, a teacher could conceivably clock 48 hours a year in this category, easily obtaining 150 clock hours in five years. With this possibility, how many teachers feel compelled to obtain additional education that requires more time, commitment, effort, and maybe money?)

3) Systematic programs of observation and analysis of teaching and/or peer coaching (If a teacher is a master teacher or observes his/her friend next door a few times, does this count as some of the hours? While all teachers should be engaging in such a practice, what incentive is there to make this a personally edifying and educational experience?)

4) Service in a leadership role in an educational institution, including developing curriculum, serving on school site council or as a mentor teacher, and creating a new course of study (This is another important activity all teachers should be doing, but again, this criteria is loose enough to allow these hours to easily be acquired.)

5) Service in a leadership role in a professional organization, as an elected officer, chair of a committee, or an official representative. (Since I have worked extensively in our local union, I do appreciate this category; however, in the last three years of service to our local and state NEA chapter, I have acquired more than 150 hours without engaging in many activities that directly relate to improving my classroom instruction.)

6) Educational research and innovation and field tests (This is also a notable idea, but it lacks standards and performance criteria.)

7) Professional exchange programs, alternative work-experience programs, independent study programs, creative endeavors, cultural experiences, CPR training (The flexibility in this category can be meaningful, but it also can be so flexible as to allow museum visits and concerts as the required professional hours.)

While I am not advocating the system to become more rigid and take the flexibility away from a teacher to determine his/her own pursuit of professional growth, the system does need to monitor more closely the content and methods of how a teacher obtains significant and crucial knowledge. The problem with California's re-licensing procedure is that teachers do not have to exert any additional effort, show any improvement, or meet any educational or performance standard to be re-licensed.

Another problem is that a teacher is asked to work, collaborate, and discuss a professional plan with a "professional growth advisor". Again, this is a worthy concept, however, in reality, it may be simply perfunctory. For example, my principal of the school where I had only taught for two years signed off all my five years of professional hours without any collaboration or discussion; and my credential was renewed.

Two of the difficulties in our states' accountability are the state's geographical size and the large number of its teachers (300,000). Maintaining and overseeing all teachers' re-licensure efforts is a huge task. "Large processing operations necessitate the use of perfunctory evaluation criteria, which in turn encourage the use of superficial credit-hour requirements rather than ones that assure the substantive acquisition of knowledge and skills or demonstrated improvements in performance."

The Need for More Meaningful Professional Growth

While more recent research has focused on a thorough and critical look at our nation's teacher education programs and methods to support new teachers, there seems to be little inquiry into how teachers should be required to grow and educate themselves continually throughout their career.

"The mere fact that every other state in the nation in some way requires teachers to continue their education as a condition of continued licensure provides a general indication that the acquisition of new knowledge and skills, and the refinement and updating of existing knowledge and skills, are widely considered essential. So also does the fact that most of the other so-called "higher" professions and many of the "lower" ones are obligated to meet similar requirements. So, too, does the well-documented fact that knowledge in all of the academic subjects that are taught in schools, as well as knowledge of effective educational approaches, continues to expand at an accelerating rate."

In 1994, one of the National Education Goals was recognizing the importance of teacher education and professional development. The goal states:

"By the year 2000, the nation's teaching force will have access to programs for continued improvement of their professional skills and the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to instruct and prepare all American students for the next century."

With only two and a half years before we reach that date, and supposedly that goal, there are still no well-publicized or readily accessible programs in place for teachers who are seeking this opportunity.

The California Standards for the Teaching Profession has published six standards to help teachers define and develop their practice. Two of them that particularly relate to this area are a "Standard for understanding and organizing subject matter for student learning - Teaches exhibit strong working knowledge of subject matter and student development" and a "Standard of developing a professional educator - Teachers reflect on their teaching practice and are actively involved in planning their professional development. Teachers establish professional learning goals, pursue opportunities to develop professional knowledge and skills, and participate in the extended professional community." While both the nation and state are writing high standards and goals, one is left to wonder what is going to happen to them. Will we ever be held accountable for meeting and demonstrating these performances?

The California Round Table for Educational Opportunity also found a need to require teachers to continue their education throughout their career. They proposed that a professional standards board be established to set standards for training, licensing, and professional development of teachers. As for teachers already credentialed: "One year of teacher training is not enough. Teachers and all school-site educators must be lifelong learners, and their educational experiences must be rigorous."

The Problem

This problem is not indigenous to our state. The re-licensure of teachers is a national concern. Teacher certification has recently been defined as: "A designation of advanced practice in a specialized area, based on a voluntary system of application and assessment." As long as certification is seen as "voluntary", teachers will continue to take re-licensure lightly. There must be specific and uniform criteria for teachers to follow; and there must be clear-cut expectations and standards of how their re-certification will be allowed.

"Regarding education, licensing authorities for most professions require the completion of approved degrees, courses, and practica (internships and residencies) for initial preparation, and continuing education for refinement and maintenance of skills. Regarding evaluation, state authorities use examinations and observation/evaluation of performance to verify that essential knowledge and skills have been acquired and are being effectively applied."

The teaching profession is being let down by state licensing agencies in two ways. States are not requiring "meaningful and necessary" education credits; and they are not requiring observation or evaluation of performance standards and/or improvement.

"Because the potential consequences of incompetent professional performance are serious and because members of the general public trust and rely upon the state license as evidence of competence, it is essential that licensing requirements, procedures and criteria be valid and reliable. Issuing or maintaining licenses based on superficial or inadequate procedures, criteria, or requirements is worse than not licensing professionals at all because it is a form of active public misrepresentation."

Last year when What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future was issued, some of the major concerns were that school districts were hiring teachers who had not met the basic requirements and less than 75% had degrees in their teaching subject areas. It recommended that states set high standards for teacher licensure. Because of this finding itself, it seems that states should be taking an active, if not aggressive, role in requiring its already credentialed teachers to be updating their skills and ensuring that all teachers are keeping up-to-date in the latest educational theories and practices and increasing their knowledge in the subject areas they teach.

The Council for Basic Education published a study in 1996 based on their findings from a survey of 600 teachers across the nation. Teachers were asked to respond to and recommend changes based on their experience in their own teacher education programs. Two of the top three changes were that teacher education programs should require all teachers to know the content of the subjects they teach and to teach pedagogy in the context of academic content. One teacher who responded felt that none of her undergraduate courses had helped her to know the content of her subject area. Another responded that being licensed in a field does not guarantee that a teacher knows the content of that subject in any depth. Especially when even teachers are finding their initial training and preparation for a credential to be lacking, shouldn't states be responding by ensuring that there is adequate training and education for teachers once they are in the profession.

Solutions

Some states are responding to these concerns by restructuring the format for licenses; offering probationary licenses for the first years of teaching; and implementing standards for advanced practice and licensure.

Both New Jersey and Vermont are taking innovative steps to grasp the issue of teacher relicensure and improve its process, in hopes of improving the quality of its teachers. Vermont is one of the states that has established a state Standards Board for Professional Educators that participates and makes recommendations in the relicensure of teachers. Every public school district in Vermont operates a board that helps "to shape and approve individualized professional-development plans for each teacher in the district." This is being done so that teachers will be held accountable for improving their skills instead of meeting some meaningless minimum standard. This practice first drew criticism because there was not enough teacher representation on these boards; since then, teachers now make up the majority of board members. Every seven years, a teacher must seek relicensure and meet these criteria: "Teachers will prepare a professional-development plan in collaboration with their local boards, which must approve the overall schemes and goals, the individual activities designed to achieve the goals, and the teachers' performance in carrying out the activities. Teachers will submit portfolios to document their activities and performance."

New Jersey is in the process of adopting new rules and policy for the certification of its teachers with the following elements:

  1. Required continuing education that is based in teaching knowledge and skills that provides students an education as specified in the Core Curriculum Content Standards.
  2. Every five years, the Department of Education reviews the education program providers, which are judged on whether they provide newly emerging knowledge and skills necessary for teaching students.
  3. Continuing education can only be from a state approved program.
  4. Teachers will have to implement the knowledge and skills gained through their continuing education. A panel will deem how this knowledge can translate into actual teaching performance and a state-approved evaluator will determine teachers' eligibility for re-licensure.
While some states and educational groups are merely doing lip service to demanding a higher criteria for professional development and the relicensure of teachers, some states and school districts are aiming for real reform and creating methods to ensure its success. For professional hours to be meaningful, powerful, successful, and effective for our students, they must ensure that teachers keep up with the latest pedagogy and continually update their knowledge in the particular subject area in which they teach. "Teachers, like students, go through developmental stages. Learning opportunities should be matched with career stages for maximum effect ... more experienced teachers need higher level skills, learning theories within which to apply their knowledge ... In addition to increasing their teaching skills and strategies, teachers also need to renew and refine their knowledge of the subjects they teach."

Recommendations

  1. Establish Local Standards Boards to replace bureaucratic state agencies that can be too far removed from a district's and a teacher's needs. These boards, which should be comprised of a majority of teachers, will review and collaborate with each teacher on their individualized professional growth plan. A collaboration process should be the goal and not, as some agencies suggest, a peer-review and evaluation process.
  2. Require teachers to be accountable for obtaining knowledge in his/her specific subject area. National standards that are set by the national subject matter councils, for example, the National Council for Teachers of English, could be used. These councils should be given more latitude in establishing standards based on current research and methodology for teaching these subjects most effectively.
  3. Require universities to provide meaningful course work for teachers who are pursuing professional growth. These courses should not just be in pedagogy, but also universities should allow teachers to take graduate courses in their subject matters without going through an elaborate application process. Teachers should not be expected to enroll in a graduate program just to take a course that would sharpen their skills, acquire new knowledge, or update and broaden knowledge in the courses they teach. Universities should make a lifelong commitment to its teachers, instead of being, as some are accused, "credential mills".
  4. Require universities to allow teachers lifelong access to its resources.
  5. Assess teacher growth - Professional development is meaningless without a teacher requirement of demonstrated growth. Teachers should be asked to self-assess the methods they are learning and create a working portfolio that is required when a teacher applies for relicensure.
  6. Include standards and assessment plans that teachers must follow when applying for re-licensure. Some state departments of education, national groups, and state groups are setting high standards for teachers in the areas of relicensure; but these standards and goals mean nothing if teachers are not accountable for demonstrating them. States must develop action plans for implementing these goals and assessment methods to ensure that teachers are obtaining them.
  7. Require a certain amount of professional hours to be related to improved classroom instruction and/or increased knowledge an the teachers's subject matter. A teacher needs the flexibility to pursue his/her own matters of interest and to explore new avenues, but he/she must also stay current with the latest pedagogy and research in his/her subject matter.

States must adopt these recommendations if they really want to acquire "professional" teachers.

 

 

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