Jeff's Corner


Disclaimer: The following is the opinion of the author. It is not the opinion of any organization or persons associated with him.

As I have taken on the responsibilities of the Associate Director of the SC SSI, I have had the opportunity to visit all of the Hubs and have had the opportunity to talk to educators from around the state. Because of these conversations I believe it is time to revisit some old ideas and some not so old ideas. Some may be popular, some may cause concern, but hopefully, they will generate discussion within the education community.

I have been fortunate enough to have met both Governor Hodges and Superintendent Tenenbaum. I have been impressed by the support for education that both have expressed both publicly and privately. I applaud Ms. Tenenbaum's requested $473 million in new funds for public schools. I hope both the Governor's budget and final state budget seriously reflect these requests:

Reduced class sizes in grades K-3 (17-1) - $58 million

Early Childhood/Family Literacy - $4.5 million

Increase the average teacher salary to $300 above Southeastern Average (from $34,603 to $36,169) - $18.6 million

Reading Recovery - $1.7 million

School Buses - $40 million

First Steps (early childhood intervention) - $20 million

Technology - $27 million

Summer School - $10 million

Guidance Counsellors - $14 million

National Board Certification (12.5% pay increase for National Board Certification) - $124,000

Although I applaud the increase, I don't feel it goes far enough. Research has told us that long term professional development in both content and pedagogy is needed to ensure that teachers are prepared adequately to meet the educational needs of our children. This is particularly true with the new achievement standards and the new PACT assessment system to be used in South Carolina. Successful businesses and industries spend up to 20% of their budget on professional development for their staffs. School districts spend less than 2% of their budget on professional development! Unfortunately, in the world of education, research is not as respected as it is in other professions. Imagine if your Doctor prescribed outdated medicines or therapies to treat your loved ones!? You'd be up in arms and changing doctors. However, in education we continually ignore the research.

What are some of the reasons for not putting more money into professional development and problems associated with the current state of professional development?

1. Increased revenue: There would need to be an increased revenue, which means increasing taxes…a political no-no.

2. Re-prioritization of budgets: Based on what I know about current school budgets, we might be able to increase district spending on professional development to 5-7%. However, any more than that would have a negative impact on other vital areas.

3. Timing of professional development: Another problem that needs to be addressed is professional development opportunities that are offered. Most professional development occurs after school and in the evenings, followed by summer and weekends. However, everyone I have ever talked to - teachers, principals, staff developers, etc. - has told me that after school is the least effective time for professional development! The reason is obvious. How alert can anyone be after spending an exhausting day with 20 - 200 students? Anyone in education will tell you that school time staff development is much more effective. Although some schools schedule professional development during school hours, it is not the norm. Cost of substitutes, lack of substitutes, and pulling teachers out of their classroom keeping them away from students are all reasons for holding professional development after school hours.

Research tells us we need more professional development, particularly content oriented professional development. Yet we have major problems with the current professional development system. What can we do to address these problems?

Let me submit the following proposal for discussion. I propose that teacher contracts be extended from the current 190 days to 210 workdays. Including the Superintendents intended salary increase, the contract extension would cost the state an additional $216 million. This would increase the average teacher's pay from Ms. Tenenbaum's proposed $36,169 to $39,976.

The additional 20 workdays would be for mandatory professional development for all teachers. I propose adding 15 workdays at either the end of the school year or at the beginning of the school year (I toyed with the idea of three weeks during December, but that would be too radical and cause the school year to be extended by four weeks......I don't think South Carolina is ready for that radical a change.).

In addition to the 15 workdays (3 weeks) at the end or beginning of the school year, I recommend that there be one day per month for professional development activities. This would add an additional 5 school days at the end of the year for students. Although radical, I think South Carolina parents would be willing to put up with the 5 additional school days if they knew that this time was to accommodate the professional development of teachers.

The extended contract would not only increase teacher pay, but would also assure that teachers be treated as professionals. Business and industry pays their employees for participating in professional development, why not educators? The extended contract would also help achieve my second proposal. Mandate that all middle school teachers be certified to teach the content areas they teach. Research shows that students of content certified teachers achieve at higher levels than those taught by teachers not certified to teach a content area (I know there are exceptions to the rule, but overall, this is true). Give current teachers 5 years to become certified to teach in a content area. If they do not obtain certification, transfer them to an elementary school or to an area for which they are certified. I know this means less flexibility for middle school principals, but we need to dig our heels in and do what is best for the student (yes, I know the fiscal implications, but again, bottom line, we need to do what is best for the student).

We can't make changes in the K-12 arena without making changes in the higher education arena. This certification requirement means that Higher Education must come on board and produce middle school teachers that are content certified when they graduate from an institution.

A middle school tract is not enough however. We at the institutions of higher education must change the way we prepare teachers. Colleges of Education must work in concert with Colleges of Sciences and Mathematics. Most teachers are taught their math and science (and language arts and social studies) by the math and science departments and not by faculty in the schools of education. Therefore, schools of education must work with math and science departments to ensure that future teachers are taught in a manner that we want them to teach. This is not a novel idea, however, we need to stop talking the talk and start walking the walk. This means that higher education must change its policies to allow faculty the ability to change the way they teach. This means institutions of higher education must take a look at their promotion and tenure policies. They must change these policies to allow faculty to participate in professional development activities that will help them change the way they teach. The Governor can help this process by providing the funding necessary to allow higher education to undergo this renaissance.

The South Carolina Department of Education can help this process by opening its doors to the Colleges of Science and Mathematics. Traditionally the department has opened its doors to schools of education (though I sometimes wonder how wide those doors actually were), it has never included the colleges of science and mathematics. If the department wants better prepared teachers, it must involve all those involved with teacher education, and not just the schools of education. The department must stress the importance that all teachers coming out of an institution of higher education in South Carolina must be familiar with standards. I am not sure this message is reaching all undergraduate education majors.

Finally, while I am on my soapbox, let me propose something that I proposed in Jeff's Corner a couple of years ago. Soon, the science and mathematics textbook adoption will be upon us. Money must be found so school districts can pilot curriculum materials before an adoption occurs. It makes no sense for schools to adopt materials using the current adoption practices. How can you make an intelligent decision without trying out the materials. We test drive cars before we purchase them don't we? Yet we are willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on untested materials! This just doesn't make sense.

The South Carolina Department of Education and the South Carolina Statewide Systemic Initiative are working hard to ensure that only the best possible materials will be made available for the next adoption cycle. However, a teacher, a school and a district must decide which materials best meet their needs. So it is imperative that there is a process in place that makes the most sense.

Allow me to reiterate one more time my proposals within:

1. Extend teacher contracts by 20 days solely for the purpose of professional development.

2. Mandatory content certification for all middle school teachers.

3. Piloting of curriculum materials before adoption.

4. Increased communication between the South Carolina Department of Education and institutions of higher education, including schools/colleges of mathematics and sciences.

5. Policy changes in institutions of higher education to allow college faculty to concentrate on how they teach.

It is time for the education community, K-16, to stop talking the talk and start walking the walk. We know what the research tells us. It's time to just do it!


March '99 Newsletter Index

RPSEC Newsletter Index

Copyright © 1999 by the Board of Trustees of the University of South Carolina.

The Ruth Patrick Science Education Center Newsletter is a publication of the RPSEC for educators. The Center encompasses the CSRA HUB, CEET, Dupont Planetarium, and NRSMEEP. If you have any information that would be beneficial to the audience of this newsletter, or would like to be added to the mailing list, please contact Cindy Sparling, Editor, at (803) 641-3594. Deadline for submission in the next newsletter is July 10, 1999.

URL: http://rpsec.usca.edu/newsletter/Mar99/index.html (March, 1999)

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