Politics & Government

Group of teachers asking state to set standards for training

Several teachers from the South Sound want to make sure the time they spend in training amounts to something more than lost instructional hours.

About two dozen educators hailing from Tacoma to Bonney Lake are pushing the Legislature to develop standards and a statewide definition for professional learning.

They and other supporters of House Bill 1345 believe it’s a first step toward a larger goal: getting the state to pay for well-designed teacher-training days.

Nathan Gibbs-Bowling, who teaches Advanced Placement government classes at Tacoma’s Lincoln High School, is one teacher pushing for clearer statewide standards.

Gibbs-Bowling said too often, professional development sessions consist of teachers sitting passively through slideshow presentations, where the subject matter may not even relate to the subjects they teach. A math teacher and a health teacher may sit through the same presentation, he said, delivered by a presenter flown in from out of state.

“The last thing that any teacher wants to do is to have one of the few actual professional learning times they have be wasted,” said Gibbs-Bowling, the board president for the group Teachers United. “If we have standards for students, why don’t we have standards for the way we’re trained as well?”

House Bill 1345 would define professional learning as addressing teachers’ and students’ individual needs, which would be determined based on classroom observation, student test scores and professional growth plans.

The measure, which passed the state House Thursday on a 91-7 vote, would also make professional learning focus more on long-term job coaching and collaboration with other teachers, rather than one-day seminars where teachers aren’t able to immediately practice what they’ve learned.

The legislation would require professional learning to be aligned with state and district educational goals.

Right now, professional development days cut into the time set aside for classroom instruction in many districts, according to the State Board of Education.

This school year, 34 of the state’s 295 school districts received approval to use one or more of their required 180 instructional days for professional development, including the Tacoma, Puyallup and Bethel school districts.

That doesn’t include any early-release or late start days the districts might schedule to squeeze in additional teacher-training time.

North Thurston Public Schools, for instance, has scheduled 14 early release days this school year to make time for professional development, district officials said.

“Professional development is essential for helping teachers become more effective educators, which translates to student success in the classroom,” said Vicky Lamoreaux, North Thurston’s assistant superintendent of instructional services, in a statement.

The state’s Quality Education Council has recommended that the state pay for school districts to offer 10 professional learning days outside of the 180-day school year, but legislators so far haven’t agreed to do so.

Right now, the state doesn’t provide specific funding for districts to hold training days. Districts may offer training outside of the regular 180-day school year on their own dime, ask for permission to offer training during the school year in place of classroom days, or shorten some school days to allow for added training time.

State Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes, said she thinks the varying quality of professional learning in school districts across the state makes it harder for lawmakers to agree to pay for more of it. Each day of professional learning paid for by the state costs $25 to $30 million, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

“I believe until we have a clear definition of what professional learning means – our state is one of the few that does not do this – that we’re not going to be able to move forward with a very appropriate and needed conversation of sending money to our schools,” Lytton, the sponsor of House Bill 1345, said at a hearing before the House Education Committee last month.

Setting new standards for teacher training is a plan supported by the state teachers union, the Washington Education Association, as well as the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah, said that students benefit from their teachers receiving targeted professional development that focuses on the subject and grade they teach. A report from the Washington State Institute for Public Policy last year found that professional development that isn’t catered to teachers’ subjects and grade levels didn’t provide added benefit, but targeted training did.

“There is a lot of general purpose professional development that has no positive return on investment,” said Magendanz, the top Republican on the House Education Committee. “Step one is defining what effective professional development is, and I believe this bill does it.”

The legislation now heads to the Senate for consideration.