Staff Development in DCPS

It has been stated that under Michelle Rhee, funding for staff development in DCPS quadrupled.

I suspect that is possible that this might be true in the very narrowest sense, but only if you pick the comparison times very, very carefully.

During Michelle Rhee’s first two years in DCPS, there was almost no real staff development worth the name.

I recently retired (June 2009) after over 30 years of teaching math in DC public schools. (Among other things, I coached a number of DC JHS and MS math teams to state championships, usually beating many or all of the other MathCounts teams from all other DC public, private, parochial, and charter schools.) I endured two full years of Michelle Rhee’s misguided leadership before leaving the classroom.

In the two-year period August 2007 through June 2009, I can honestly say that we had the very fewest system-wide content-specific or methods-specific staff development sessions that I can ever recall in my three decades in DCPS. At least that was the case in mathematics. Years ago, I recall attending numerous staff development sessions on teaching math, and on other topics, at my local school and at various DCPS or outside buildings, run either by DCPS teachers and staff, or else by outside experts. (I won’t say they were all wonderful, because some were not. But some were in fact great, and some of those good ones were run by other DCPS teachers.) I ran a few of such session, myself, sometimes for free, sometimes for a small stipend. (I hope that the sessions I ran were useful and not too boring, but will let others judge their quality.)

The only such PD session that I recall DCPS running in my subject (math) from fall 2007 through spring 2009, was introductory sessions on using graphing calculators.

Sorry, but that is a joke.

No person should be placed into a classroom and be asked to teach math as a subject if they have never used a graphing calculator before and needs such a course. If there are one or two such people in the system due to some unforeseen disaster, then they should be personally summoned for a one- or two-hour session on the topic, or someone should go to them and show them. By contrast, just about every mathematics teacher I know in DCPS could in fact TEACH either an introductory, an intermediate, or an advanced class or series of classes on using graphing calculators.

However, a couple of months ago, someone showed me where one could find the recent DCPS budgets for special purchases. I soon discovered that during SY 2009-2010, many millions of dollars have been spent under Rhee and Kamras on consultants for staff development. From what I understand, almost all of these sessions are run by relatively inexperienced, so-called ‘master teachers’ (often graduates of “Teach For Awhile”) who tell the rest of the teachers what they must do in order to measure up under the IMPACT measurement scheme. And, it appears, there are lots of such sessions. What’s more, judging by the figures I saw being paid to TFA and NTP and NLNS, these consultants are being remunerated at very, very generous levels.

So, four times what? Compared to when? And, if you simply pay the same consultants four times as much for the same work, is that really even germane?

Does this current type of staff development actually work to improve teaching?

Or, as George W. Bush might have said, “Is the children learning more good?”

Time will tell.

It is certainly instructive that after all this hugely increased emphasis on teaching to IMPACT during the last full school year, DC-CAS scores in DCPS abruptly plummeted after rising for several straight years.It might be obvious from the tenor of my comments that from what I hear, the current funds for staff development are mainly being used to browbeat teachers, not really to improve teaching.

And, what’s more, it would be better if teachers had:

* some say in what sort of staff development sessions they could attend, and

* had more freedom to craft their own good lessons.

Guy Brandenburg, Washington, DC

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I understand exactly what you are talking about. We have a new Superintendent of Schools and she has spent a fortune bringing in consultants and speakers to try and inspire the teachers in the district. So far I have bought my own chalk, a new stapler, staples, and paper for the Xerox machine.
    I can’t wait to see what I’ll be buying in the 2nd Semester, but meanwhile, we have several paid guest speakers coming in the spring in-services.

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  2. Michelle Rhee did a lot of boasting about staff development but I think that is because she put so much money in paid consultants to come into the schools. We had a handful of PDs that were not tied to IMPACT (most of the PDs were nothing more than how to pass IMPACT sessions) and those PDs were run by former-teachers-turned-consultants showing us how to differentiate and how to backward lesson plan. A lot of the PD money went to consultants.

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