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Is It Professional Development If It Does Not Improve Teaching?

Once upon a time in New York and in other states a teacher needed 30 graduate hours past the bachelor’s degree to be permanently certified.  It didn’t matter what courses you took; they could be in education, English, or bass fishing.  Some teachers chose to take the 30 hours in a master’s degree program, but it wasn’t required.

A few school districts even paid for your graduate hours, and most districts increased your salary for every 6-9 hours you completed.  If you finished the master’s degree, you got an extra bump.  Districts paid additional money for hours beyond the master’s degree up to the doctorate.

Bass fishing Eventually it occurred to the folks at the State Education Department that those additional graduate hours needed to be in education or related academic subjects, and maybe they needed to be pre-approved by an administrator.  The 30-hour option disappeared in favor of the master’s degree.  Still, you got the graduate hours’ salary bump, then the advanced degree bump, and all of it figured into your base salary used for yearly percentage increases.

That was when people believed that any advanced degree improved teaching.  Now we know that outside of math and science, additional course work doesn’t necessarily improve teacher effectiveness.  That idea seems counterintuitive until I remember that the professional development plan in my district was to send every rookie teacher to Effective Teaching I and II, ten-week courses that taught them how to actually manage their classrooms and plan their instruction since they usually came to us without those requisite skills whether they had a master’s degree or not.

So the new debate, according to a special report in Ed Week, is whether you can consider the monies spent on graduate hours as “professional development.”   This seems like a no-brainer to me, unless you agree with districts spending thousands and thousands of dollars with no specific plans and no measurable outcomes.  Your local graduate school then is, in effect, in charge of your teachers’ professional development, not the district.

A second debate, to me much more important, is whether teachers’ salaries should be structured to reflect graduate hours or to reflect effectiveness.  Moving away from pay for graduate hours would mean that teachers’ starting salaries would have to be significantly higher, high enough to attract the kind of quality teacher I’d want my own personal child to have.  Count me as a big “yes” to that.

The third debate, of course, is whether undergraduate and graduate schools of education prepare the kinds of teachers we need or whether it’s just more of the same stuff we were getting when we could take anything and be paid for it.  It’s not as if we don’t know what teachers need to know and do to be effective, but we don’t seem to have found the right combination of theory and practice to produce enough good ones.



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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Practical Leadership are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.