ESSA Includes Improved Definition of Professional Development

By Stephanie Hirsh of Learning Forward
•December 10, 2015•

Stephanie Hirsch
Stephanie Hirsh

Today President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act, the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Stephanie Hirsh, executive director of Learning Forward, offered these comments on the law:

“Learning Forward’s focus in this new law is its improved definition of professional learning. We’ve long advocated for a definition of professional development in federal policy that aligns with our Standards for Professional Learning. We concentrated our advocacy energy on this element of the legislation because that definition applies to the references to professional development that appear throughout the law.

“I am pleased that the definition of professional development says at the outset that educator learning is an integral local strategy for building educator capacity to help students succeed with high academic standards. Just as important, the definition says that professional development must be ‘sustained, (not stand-alone, 1-day, and short-term workshops), intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, classroom focused….'” Our standards have outlined these elements for close to two decades. Sadly, the professional development that many educators in our country experience doesn’t include these components, nor the other conditions and structures essential to professional learning that ultimately helps the students in our schools.”

Interestingly, perhaps the most important word in the rest of the definition is ‘may.’ The law lists many types of professional learning that ‘may’ be what an educator experiences; we’re glad the wording recognizes that educators will need to determine precisely what that learning is. In our vision for effective learning, educators will identify their needs collaboratively and locally, based on the needs of their students, and in a cycle of continuous improvement.”

“Finally, when it comes to actually implementing meaningful professional learning, educators require so much more than what is articulated in the definition in the law. I urge education leaders and stakeholders to be bold in demanding the resources and conditions that support professional learning and in holding themselves accountable for doing their part to build educator capacity to meet all students’ needs.”

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