Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The PDP farce – wink, wink, nod, nod

(I was recently contacted by Renee Roberson to see if I wanted to participate in a blog tour through WOW! Women on Writing and I agreed.  This is a guest post from D.A. Russell. This is such a great article that I didn’t want to distract you from his thoughts so I put his bio information at the bottom of this post.  Hope you enjoy it! – Pat)

PDPs – Professional Development Plans (usually referred to as Professional Development Points by teachers) – are the primary means of giving teachers additional training during their careers. All teachers are required to take annual additional training, and be credited with “PDPs” (Professional Development Points) in order to be recertified to teach. All schools conduct internal training programs that award PDPs periodically, but in addition teachers must find outside sources of training that qualify for PDP credits.

The problem is that there is a tremendous need for PDPs for teachers (else they lose their license and jobs), but a limited number of useful topics.  So a cottage industry has now grown into a major industry to churn out new “content” every few months that could be sold to teachers and schools to meet PDP requirements. 

The result is exactly what you would expect – the drive in the PDP industry is to create something new and salable – not necessarily anything that helps education.

There are always topics required by state DOEs that qualify for PDP credits – such as training for standardized test proctoring, or annual review of restraint training. In addition, most schools carefully choose a new topic relevant to their school each year. But these programs typically cover no more than one-fourth to one-third of the PDPs required to renew a teaching license. 

So the PDP industry gets to work and invents new “content” to sell. In recent years, much of this new content has either been “check-the-box” training that is nothing more than a rehash of old material and will be ignored by the attendees, or it is a new fad-du-jour that someone cooked up to sell a course regardless of educational merit. Teachers routinely sit at these PDP conferences with a “…wink, wink, nod, nod, this is really useful…” view of the meeting. Everyone attending knows it is a farce. The goal is to get through the meeting, get the certificate that awards the mandated PDPs, and then go home and forget all the nonsense you just heard. 

Now clearly, not all PDP conferences and classes are bad.  But I can only recall a handful in the past decade that had nuggets a good teacher could use. One of the best half-day PDP sessions I ever attended was about ways to discipline with humor and engage today’s child centered on an excellent book by Barkley. Another was an excellent course with practical tips on diversified learning strategies. 

Most of the other PDP courses were a complete waste of time.

Example:  The Power of “I”

A now-dead fad called “The Power of I” is the poster child for the ills of the PDP system.  Thousands of schools across the country jumped on this program a few years ago to fill a couple half-days of PDP training, and yield a few precious PDP credits for their teachers. The program was a huge financial success for its developers. On the surface it was a program designed to help get students to do more homework. In reality, it was a program designed by someone who had absolutely no idea what teachers face in the classroom, and appears to know absolutely nothing about the psychology and expectations of a child.

“The Power of I” said – never give a child a zero for a missed assignment, instead give them an “I” for “Incomplete.” By some mysterious process this would incent the child to finish the project at a later date. Somehow in the rush to create saleable PDP content, the creator believed he could convince experienced teachers that this was all needed to get students to do more homework. 

Many of us watched with trepidation as several of the newer teachers gave “The Power of I” a try.  We watched as the term ended and the homework still had not been made up. We watched as the teacher asked in bewilderment what grade should be submitted for the end of the term report card if a student still had an “I” for three scores, and refused to make up the assignments. It was frustrating and sad to witness the hard lesson the new teacher learned about educational PDP fads, when the students did exactly what the experienced teachers expected. The student preferred the “I” to the zero because it let them safely skip the work, yet kept them out of trouble at home for weeks by hiding the zeroes.  They gladly accepted the zero at the end of the term rather than make up the work – knowing they could use the excuse at home that it was too late, and they would just have one “punishment” all at once rather than having had to face the parent for each zero along the way. 

Worst of all, by labeling failure with the relatively nice term of “incomplete,” we enable the child to duck his/her responsibility.  The child knows he/she simply blew off the assignment, but the school tells them it’s okay because it is just “incomplete.”  The school has made it official – skipping assignments is okay.

It doesn’t have to be this way!

There are many more like the “Power of I” that could be cited to make the point about useless PDP content.  If I had to try to put numbers on my years of PDP training history, I would guesstimate the following:

Useful PDP content:               20%
Rehash of old, known material:          50%
Useless fad content:                30%

But PDPs could be good for teachers and education if we just reduced the number required (so that there was no longer the need to purchase useless filler training) and follow training best practices. For any training program to succeed, any world-class trainer will tell you it must meet three criteria:

Focused on the needs of the individual
Focused upon the needs of the job
Provide added value specific to the individual

The overall PDP program fails these criteria for the bulk of the PDP training that is available.  Much of the training is just a repeat of prior years where 90% of the audience has sat through the same presentation a dozen times before. Topics that could be vital for all teachers, especially newer ones, are rarely covered, such as: Diversified learning, “explaining” versus “presenting” material, class discipline, and engaging students.

We need to fix this!
“About D.A. Russell:
D. A. Russell has spent the last ten years as a math teacher in one of the urban high schools that is the subject of Lifting the Curtain. He is an honors graduate of Dartmouth College, and has his master’s degree from Simon School, where he was valedictorian of his class. Russell is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He has two children that he treasures, and four grandchildren. His son is a police officer who served in the US Army in Afghanistan, earning a Bronze Star for valor. His daughter is a lawyer and his most passionate fan and honorary literary agent. Russell has a passion for children that dominates his life. He has taught and coached children for decades. Few things are more important in Russell’s view than to cherish the children who are our real treasures in this world. He is a contributor for education matters to the Huffington Post, and runs a personal blog at: dedicated to letting teacher voices be heard in the real problems with education.

Lifting the Curtain (2nd Edition):
The 2nd edition of the acclaimed look at today's failed education system -- with dozens of teacher submissions from across the USA and nine new chapters! Both KIRKUS and CLARION praise this important book "...from the unique perspective of a classroom teacher" that shows the real problems that have destroyed the education of our children. Few parents or legislators have any chance of seeing the real state of education in our urban schools. It is a shameful disaster -- unlike anything that we, as parents, experienced just 15-20 years ago. The real problems stay largely unseen, because career DoE bureaucrats and school administration are extremely good at hiding their failed policies behind the curtain of the school entryway. In Lifting the Curtain, Russell provides a detailed look at urban high school education from inside the classroom, including three years of research, and the first ever major survey of what students and teachers think of the educational system. If we want a real solution for our children, then for once we must focus on the real problems, the ones carefully hidden behind the educational curtain.”


Sioux Roslawski said...

Pat--Great guest post. Russell's title is quite ironic. When it comes to teachers' professional development, usually it IS wink, wink, nod, nod...wink and blink as you attempt to try and stay awake until eventually you nod...and succumb to sleep. Teachers are desperate for a cure, for exciting strategies that work, for new ideas that make our job easier and--at the same time--make us more effective educators. What we don't need is old stuff given a new name. What we also don't need is extra helpings of more stuff, making our plate way too heaping. (It's too late for that. Our plates are groaning and breaking under the weight.)

Thanks for posting this, and Russell, thanks for your passion.

Renee Roberson said...

I can tell you that most parents have no clue that teachers have to go through this. I found this post very enlightening. My main question is--who puts together these PDP training sessions? Is it up to each school district, or are there companies dedicated to selling these materials?

Renee Roberson said...

I can tell you that most parents don't have a clue that teachers have to go through this type of "development training." My main question after reading this post is: who is in charge of putting together these seminars? Is it up to each individual school district, or are there companies devoted to selling PDP content and materials?

Don Russell said...

Hi Pat

Thank you so much for posting this! When you asked for something about PDPs, it really got my juices going -- and I realized it was a topic I had never covered on my blog. So today I stole your idea and posted this on my personal blog and mu Huffington Post blog.

What is fascinating is to see how teachers are more and more taking the risk to speak out about the REAL problems with education. Only classroom teachers can see past the false noise that the problems are all "...bad funding, bad unions, bad children, and bad teachers." The more parents and legislators start to see that the major issue is "...bad mandates" then the sooner we can start to fix things.

Thank you for such a great idea for a post! :-)

Don R