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How Are Professional Development Providers Held Accountable?

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April 26, 2011 09:00 pm

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Last week, Education Week reporter Catherine Gewertz blogged about a recently released Alliance policy brief on the need for aligning comprehensive K-12 literacy plans with the English-Language Arts common standards. In her post, she wrote:

The brief also argues that teachers aren’t adequately prepared for, or supported in, the job of building literacy in students, especially those in middle and high school. When ESEA is reauthorized, it should hold teacher education programs and professional-development providers accountable for teachers’ effectiveness in literacy instruction, the brief argues (though it doesn’t specify how PD providers would be held accountable, and I’m curious to know).

In response to Catherine’s question about professional development providers, Mariana Haynes, author of the report and senior fellow at the Alliance, had this to say:

An appropriate federal role is definitely asking the grantees (States & Districts) to evaluate the impact of professional development on educator practice and ultimately student achievement.  There are various examples across the states–take a look at FL.  The next step is for States and Districts to hold providers responsible for results.  This can be recommended or even implied by federal policy but this is most likely an appropriate responsibility of oversight bodies in the states.  I am also aware that many states “validate” or approve providers that districts and schools can use.  This might be a way that the oversight bodies could control the quality of the providers. 

Stephanie Hirsch, Executive Director of Learning Forward, also weighed-in:

States are being called upon to hold professional development providers accountable for their results.  Many people are asking how we do that?  Here are three thoughts:

1.  Begin by honoring the people who you already work with. Prior to considering contracting with outside experts, look inside to ensure that the goals you seek to achieve have not already been met by a teacher, a team, or another school.  Tapping internal expertise and systematically spreading it is key to institutionalizing change.

2.  Each contracting organization (the state, district, or school) must be thorough in the contracting process.  The contracting process must include information about the providers’ credentials, experiences, and outcomes.  The contracting organization must do its homework and be confident the provider has the knowledge, skills, and track record to produce the agreed upon results.

3.  Contracts must include deliverables during and at the end of the process. Agreed upon benchmarks must be negotiated and ongoing formative evaluation and design corrections are core components.  When benchmarks fail to be met and mid course correction explanations deemed unacceptable, contracts must be made null and non binding.  Final payments must be held until thorough evaluations are provided.

Some states continue to consider “provider certification systems.”  Let’s assume our local university wants to be “certified” as a professional development provider.  Who do we certify?  The president, the provost, the deans, the colleges, the individual professors?  And what subjects are they certified to address?  Must each one list their course topics, their research areas, or areas of interest?  What evidence do they provide to demonstrate they will apply the standards for professional learning in their work with educators?  Are these questions leading you to recognize the challenges associated with provider certifications? 

In most cases providers cannot and should not be qualified in advance of an assessment of the student and educator learning needs.  The prescription must match the diagnosis.  Rather than spending time and resources to register or qualify providers, states should focus on ensuring educators have the knowledge and tools to make effective decisions regarding professional development and hold their providers accountable.

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