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Why is Norwalk Schools considering adding more professional development time?

Posted January 08, 2013 in Community Blogs, Norwalk

Norwalk conducts state-required “continuous improvement studies of professional development” each year. These studies focus on how well each Iowa school adheres to the mandated Iowa Professional Development Model (IPDM).  The IPDM can be found on the Iowa Department of Education website at:   http://educateiowa.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=232&Itemid=1286#pddocuments  These IPDM studies reveal that the number one concern of Norwalk teachers was “inadequate professional development time to prepare for, deliver and assess quality instruction”.  An Area Education Agency study affirms that Norwalk is in the bottom 20% of all Central Iowa schools regarding professional development time for our staff.  Additional validation came in the Des Moines Register article which identified Norwalk as one of “Iowa’s Top 100 Workplaces”.  WorkDynamics conducted an in-depth study of the Norwalk District as part of the identification process. WorkDynamics found Norwalk to be an efficient district filled with some of the finest workers in the state.  However, the lowest score was found in the area of professional development time necessary to improve the product (in our case, the product is student achievement).  A triangulation of these studies indicates that Norwalk teachers do not have time to adequately address state and national mandates with the present time constraints.  This challenge will probably become more intense with the new state proposal which requires 36 hours of peer-related professional development beginning in the 2013-14 school year.

In response to this data, a question was posed in our 2011 parent survey.  The survey found a majority of parents supported more time for professional development at early outs.   The board then requested a SIAC (School Improvement Advisory Committee) focus group led by Curriculum Director Mark Crady. SIAC recommended that we add more early outs to our calendar for next year.

Putting this recommendation in perspective, I will use my own life as an educator.  The amount of time allocated for professional development is unchanged since I arrived in Norwalk as a teacher in 1979.  However, teachers face many more state and federal mandates than I did in 1979. The following was cut and pasted from the research of Jamie Vollmer, Executive Director of the Iowa Business and Education Roundtable and former President of Great Midwestern Ice Cream Company.  It simply lists the “required schoolwork” added over the decades (in addition to the traditional three R’s, fine arts, and related arts), since I started teaching:

1980’s initiatives added to teachers:

Keyboarding and computer education, Global education,  Multicultural/Ethnic education,  Nonsexist education, English-as-a-second-language and bilingual education, Teen pregnancy awareness, Hispanic heritage education,  Early childhood education, Jump Start, Early Start, Even Start, and Prime Start , Full-day kindergarten , Preschool programs for children at risk , After-school programs for children of working parents , Alternative education in all its forms, Stranger/danger education , Antismoking education, Sexual abuse prevention education, Expanded health and psychological services, and child abuse monitoring (a legal requirement for all teachers).

1990’s initiatives added to teachers:

Conflict resolution and peer mediation , HIV/AIDS education , CPR training , Death education, America 2000 initiatives, Inclusion programming for special education students, Expanded computer and internet education, Distance learning Tech Prep and School to Work programs , Technical Adequacy Assessment, Post-secondary enrolment options,  Concurrent enrolment options, Goals 2000 initiatives (Norwalk’s focused on mentoring new teachers), Expanded Talented and Gifted opportunities , At risk and dropout prevention and Homeless education (including causes and effects on children).

2000’s initiatives added to teachers:

Service learning, Bus safety, bicycle safety, gun safety, and water safety education, No Child Left Behind, Bully prevention , Anti-harassment policies (gender, race, religion, or national origin), Expanded early childcare and wrap around programs, Elevator and escalator safety instruction, Body Mass Index evaluation (obesity monitoring),  Organ donor education and awareness programs, Personal financial literacy, Entrepreneurial and innovation skills development , Media literacy development, Contextual learning skill development, Health and wellness programs Race to the Top,  Artifact  collections for the Iowa Teaching Standards Portfolios,  required training in safety and “Right to Know” laws and Child Abuse Training.

2010-12 initiatives enacted or proposed:

Legislation requiring the “Iowa Core” (a huge content and pedagogy change for Iowa schools), Governor’s Taskforce recommendations proposing changes to teacher and administrator evaluation and standards, the role of teacher leadership and compensation expansion, increased accountability reporting to the state of Iowa in all areas, lengthy “equity accountability” to the federal government, college and career readiness requirements, moving from ITBS testing to a much more comprehensive and “international style” testing called Smarter Balance, third grade retention requirements, enhanced student safety requirements and many others.

Despite this lengthy list additional requirments, Norwalk has not added any early out time in response to these mandates since I started teaching in 1979.  The state of Iowa also requires teachers to continually acquire credits for recertification of their teaching license (just like nurses, doctors, lawyers and other professionals).  These continuing education courses are taken on their own time and at their own expense, just like other state-certified professions.   Teachers also work toward advanced degrees to deepen their knowledge of subject material content, acquire more effective teaching pedagogy designed to move student achievement, which increases their salaries.  They also accrue these advanced degrees on their own time and at their own expense.

The new mandates from the state and federal government are clear and nonnegotiable. These are not “choices” left to the discretion of teachers or schools.  These mandates require the implementation of new equipment and technology, require complex and research-based practices in response to data, add multiple layers of standardized testing and mandate teacher collaboration for our state-required District Professional Development Plans, Building Professional Development Plans, and Individual Teacher Professional Development Plans. The state mandates that professional development be done as teams, not in isolation. It also requires that much of the work must be done while classes are in session.  The data is collected from student assessments, midcourse adjustments to teaching are made based on this data, and students are re-tested to monitor continuous improvement.  So, this work cannot be done during the summer or times that school is not in session. Norwalk has delayed this professional development study to fully understand the nature and longevity of the new state and federal mandates before we ask for additional time.  The direction from government is now clear.  These mandates will not go away and will probably expand as society becomes more complex.

We have a great staff and all of Iowa knows it!  You have seen Norwalk teachers win more awards per capita than any other school in Iowa.  Norwalk is proud of our staff and their professionalism. Multiple studies reveal that they use existing professional development time wisely.  Simply, there is just not enough time available to manage these new mandates.   I realize there will be people who disagree with this assessment or argue with the conclusions.  I anticipate that changing to a professional development schedule that is similar to Des Moines, Indianola, Ankeny, Waukee, Johnston, Dallas Center Grimes and others will create the same inconveniences for our families that occur in those school districts.   As superintendent, I must address this academic issue in the same direct fashion that we addressed our facilities issues.   We will try to creatively work with schedules to maintain the amount of student/teacher contact that we have traditionally enjoyed.  As you might expect, it will be a challenge.  We invite your input at our website at www.Norwalk.k12.ia.us  I ask for your understanding and support as we move through this process.

Go Warriors!

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  1. Pingback: Smarter Balanced Assessments 22 | Education in Iowa

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