Advancing High-Quality Professional Learning Through Collective Bargaining and State Policy: An Initial Review and Recommendations to Support Student Learning

American Federation of Teachers, Council of Chief State School Officers, National Education Association, National Staff Development Council
August 2010 

The result of an 18-month study between four organizations and teams in Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas, this report examines state policies and collective bargaining agreements as it relates to teachers’ professional learning. It argues that embedding professional learning standards into law and bargaining agreements is the “primary pathway” toward increasing educator effectiveness. Unfortunately, the report’s analysis (and recommendations) is peripheral to improving student achievement and come across as an extension of the national teachers unions’ agenda. 

First, the report set about defining professional learning (aka professional development), which consists of activities teachers follow to increase personal content knowledge, teaching skills, and opportunities for career growth in order to both improve teaching and student learning.

Next, it examined state policies and bargaining agreements to see how various states and districts handle professional learning and the extent to which they codify it. Of the six states studied, four are collective bargaining states while two – North Carolina and Texas – are not. Specifically, producers of the report looked at areas such as: time and budget for professional development; how it fits into “career” (National Board Certification or state licensure); and the extent to which learning is “collaborative” (teacher decision making, mentoring, collaboration, flexible designs).

Ultimately, they concluded that “professional learning does not have a significant place in policy and collective bargaining language.”

Though the authors rightly argue that teacher quality is the most critical “in-school factor” when it comes to student achievement – and even point to research illustrating this – they are incorrect in applying such research to argue that policies to improve professional learning de facto lead to increased teacher effectiveness and improved student achievement. Not so. In fact, much research shows that professional development programs do not have any impact on student learning and often are wasteful in terms of states’ and districts’ scarce resources.

While the report provides an opportunity to review several states’ professional learning policies, that is about the only interesting or salient component. It overlooks any discussion of how specific professional development practices can positively impact student learning – or whether they have. The report is available here.

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