Funding Enhanced Employee Professional Development

08/24/2015  |  By Dr. Philip E. Geiger

What do professional development opportunities mean to you? For most, they mean the chance to associate with others in your profession, stay abreast of your field, and gain the advantage of new knowledge and skills to improve your career. They are both exciting and an indication that your organization sees long-term value in you.

The corporate world spends, on average, more than $1,200 per employee each year training and re-training its staff. They recognize that to remain competitive, they must have the best people possible in place.

According to Josh Bersin of Forbes Magazine, spending on corporate training by U.S. companies grew by 15 percent in 2013 to more than $70 billion, while companies worldwide spent a cumulative $130 billion on professional development. Bersin notes that companies are willing to spend this kind of money because of the difficulty in filling positions with qualified candidates — 70 percent of companies cite capability gaps — and many indicate it takes three to five years to make a seasoned professional fully productive. As you would expect, high-performing companies spend more on training than average ones.

In schools, however, it’s a different world. Whether it is from funding issues, resource availability or lack of interest, their staffs are often the last ones to receive additional training, support and professional development. Although studies indicate that schools spend somewhere between $2,000 and $5,000 per teacher for professional development annually, few statistics exist for the entire school workforce, like we have in the private sector. Contrary to the 15 percent increase last year in professional development spending in the corporate world, studies on professional development spending in schools reflects a mere 1.5 percent increase on average.

I have often seen professional development dollars as the first place to cut at budget time, rather than looking at ways to consolidate staff or reduce the cost of services. Politically, cutting professional development is sometimes applauded. No boondoggles for our school district! No junkets to the science teachers’ convention!

For example, I remember seeing one specific request for five teachers to attend the annual conference of the National Science Teachers Association in Puerto Rico. Even after the administrators learned that the cost of travel to Puerto Rico was the same as going to Detroit, some still deemed the trip too “extravagant.” Would they have thought the same about Detroit? That’s up for debate, but the result was that they proposed restricting the trip to just one teacher who would come back and share their new insights and knowledge with the other 50 science teachers in the district.

After much discussion, I pointed out that having one person try to give 50 others the sense of the conference, the benefits of meeting other science teachers from other places, and the hours of presentation lessons learned was just not realistic. Thus, while this was a great development opportunity for the teacher that attended, the others surely did not receive as much benefit from the second-hand sharing of information. Fortunately, the board members then understood the value of each person attending and approved the travel.

Too often, in-service training produced at the school or district level means students are sent home early and teachers have three to four hours to learn skills and concepts that require real immersion, rather than just a “toe-in-the-water” approach. According to a teaching commission report, 42 percent of teachers felt that their professional development was less than desirable or a waste of time, and only 18 percent said that it actually helped them.

Conferences and meetings where teachers can devote their full attention to their professional growth and interact with teachers from other localities can help expand their horizon beyond their own district. These conferences are often inspiring and morale-building, while also expanding the knowledge capacity of the staff attending.

Studies conducted by various groups have found these six principles of effective professional development:

  1. The duration of the professional development must be significant; some studies claim as many as 50 hours before a new teaching strategy is mastered.
  2. There must be support for the teacher during the implementation stage that addresses specific challenges.
  3. The teacher’s initial exposure to the concept must be engaging and through varied approaches, so they can actively participate.
  4. Modeling is highly effective in helping to understand a new practice.
  5. The content presented needs to be specific to the discipline and grade level.
  6. Recognizing the role of formal and informal professional learning, including coaching, mentoring — virtual or face-to-face — and other experiences through social media and professional learning networks is critical.

Learning Forward — formerly National Staff Development Council — advocated in its “Standards for Staff Development” that districts spend 10 percent of their budget on staff development, and that at least 25 percent of an educator’s work time should be devoted to learning and collaborating with colleagues. They also said that 30 percent of the technology budget should be devoted to teacher development.

So how does a district pay for this professional development? Here are 11 options to consider:

  1. Develop public-private partnerships that enable the district’s leadership to gain external support for professional development of all staff: executive leadership, principals, teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians, cafeteria employees, bus drivers, etc.
  2. Create personalized professional development plans for all staff, including agreements for resources and support that enable the district to properly budget each year.
  3. Hire or ask for volunteers to serve as non-evaluative coaches; this is often very effective for retired teachers and administrators who are willing to devote some of their time and give back to the profession, as well as many consultants who will do the same.
  4. Share professional development experiences with the school board and public to continue to garner support.
  5. Investigate the availability of federal and state grants, especially reliable sources such as Title 1, IDEA and Perkins. You can also explore competitive grant availability.
  6. Reallocating funds. One significant ideological question is whether you want/need more teachers who get minimal professional development and resources, or want the teachers you have to be well-equipped with professional development resources.
  7. Consider privatizing non-instructional services to reduce costs — e.g., food services, transportation, home instruction, maintenance, substitute teachers or clinical services — that could free up some resources for professional development costs.
  8. Invest in utility reduction programs to reduce long-term operating costs — e.g., solar installations, performance contracting, renewable energy and water efficiency programs — to further reduce expenses.
  9. Include continuous professional development on the use of technology with the purchase of the technology, so it is procured and paid for as part of the total technology purchase.
  10. Use less expensive professional development delivery channels, such as webinars. Skype and similar web-based systems are the most popular approach for 35 to 44 year olds.
  11. Collaborate with other districts, or use a service center or county office, to share the cost of sustainable, long-term professional development programs.

In a recent survey of teachers, professional development was listed as one of the three most important factors and priorities in the redesign of education. It’s time to cultivate and grow the valuable assets that run our schools.

Dr. Philip E. Geiger, former superintendent of schools in New Jersey and Massachusetts, is currently senior vice president, MAXIMUS K-12 Education Inc., Reston, Virginia. Dr. Geiger has worked most of his life in public schools and was a member of the Governor’s Cabinet of the State of Arizona. Dr. Geiger holds a doctorate and two master’s degrees from Teachers College-Columbia University where he has been an adjunct professor in the educational administration department and holds an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
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