Professional development doesn’t pay off

Most professional development is a waste of time and money, writes Rick Hess. “Teachers are routinely subjected to fly-by consulting or enthusiastic workshops, without any sustained focus on particular problems or figuring how to use time, talent, and tools to solve them.”

The total cost — including salaries, substitutes, travel, etc. — could reach $8,000 to $12,000 annually per teacher, reports Knowledge Delivery Systems (KDS).

“Yet hardly any of this actually appears to make teachers better,” writes Hess, citing a 2007 review of the research by the Institute of Education Sciences.

Perhaps the most damning indictment of PD is the fact that even teachers themselves regard it with contempt. Eric Hirsch, director of special projects with The New Teacher Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz, observes, “When you ask teachers what conditions matter most in terms of their future career plans and student learning, professional development has come in last on every survey we’ve done.”

Roxanna Elden, author of See Me After Class, wryly grouses that professional development is provided in sessions with names like, “Unlock the Sunshine! Shedding Light on the Opportunities Created by State Assessment 2.0.” She explains, “Usually, these sessions use PowerPoint presentations to [tell] teachers that rigor is important, suggest[ing] we’ve spent most of the year training our students to make different colored Play-Doh balls.”

Training programs for administrators “emphasize culture, coaching, and consensus above all else,” writes Hess in his new book, Cage-Busting Leadership. “After all, if one is disinclined to rethink staffing or spending, replace employees, reward excellence, or root out mediocrity, hoping you can train staff to be better at their jobs is really all you’ve got left.”

‘Culture of Can’t’ weakens school leaders

School superintendents can lead, despite rules, regulations and union contracts, argue Rick Hess and Whitney Downs in Combating the ‘Culture of Can’t’ in Education Next. It’s not easy, but “school officials have far more freedom to transform, reimagine, and invigorate teaching, learning, and schooling than is widely believed,” they write.

Contracts, rules, regulations, statutes, and policies present real problems, but smart leaders can frequently find ways to bust them—with enough persistence, knowledge, or ingenuity.

The problem is . . .  the “culture of can’t,” in which even surmountable impediments or ankle-high obstacles are treated as absolute prohibitions.

Reformers fight for new policies on teacher evaluation, school turnarounds or school choice, but don’t  provide the support school leaders “need to tackle rules, regulations, and contracts in new ways,” write Hess and Downs.

Thus, reformers struggle to narrow the scope of collective bargaining, only to see administrators fumble the hard-won opportunities. They enact teacher evaluation and turnaround policies whose efficacy and impact rest entirely on the ability of officials to execute them competently and aggressively in the face of contracts, embedded routines, and recalcitrant cultures.

Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute has a new book, Cage-Busting Leadership.

“In selecting, training, socializing, and mentoring leaders, we have unwittingly encouraged ‘caged’ leadership,” he writes in Ed Week.  ”Cage-dwellers spend most of their energy stamping out fires or getting permission to lead, and most of their time wooing recalcitrant staff, remediating ineffective team members, or begging for resources. Cage-busters wake up every morning focused on identifying big challenges, dreaming up solutions, and blasting their way forward.”