An article published on the national websites of NBC and the Hechinger Report describes the Long Beach Unified School District’s teacher training as “ahead of the curve” and “one of the nation’s best.”
The Hechinger Report is a nonprofit news organization focused on producing in-depth education journalism and distributing it to national media such as NBC.
Hechinger writer Stephen Smith detailed Long Beach’s approach to professional development. Smith’s report comes after he visited several schools in Long Beach and talked with local teachers, administrators and national experts about the success of LBUSD’s professional development for teachers.
While many school districts rely heavily on outside experts and consultants, Long Beach creates its own training teams, and “for years, the Long Beach Unified School District has had one of the nation’s best-regarded professional development programs for new and veteran teachers,” Stephanie Hirsh, executive director of Learning Forward (a national nonprofit organization focused on teacher education) states in the report.
“Our system is really invested in building internal capacity,” Jill Baker, LBUSD’s chief academic officer,” noted in the report. “What that means is teachers become leaders and trainers. We’re not bringing someone in from the outside. We’re teaching teachers within to go back to their school sites to train others.”
Pamela Grossman, a professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, told Hechinger that LBUSD is “ahead of the curve” with its professional development.
“Professional development that’s embedded in teaching and embedded in practice is likely to have more impact on what teachers do,” Grossman says in the article. “A model where coaches are familiar with the schools, the districts and the curriculum – and are therefore able to offer fairly tailored coaching – has a better chance of moving practice along.”
The Hechinger article notes that Long Beach administrators credit the Write From The Beginning curriculum – and the teacher training that accompanies it – with turning around test scores at many schools. Some LBUSD schools scoring at or below 20 percent proficiency in state writing tests have boosted their numbers above 50 percent since 2007. Other once-struggling schools have posted writing test results above 80 percent.
Fourth grade teacher Kevin Quinn told the Hechinger Report that training provided by LBUSD will help teachers “stay ahead of the game” as Common Core Standards are implemented statewide. The standards put a heavy emphasis on student achievement in writing. Quinn also speaks frankly about increased workload, including larger class sizes, more accountability and potential teacher burnout, though the article notes that professional development can help overcome the sense of isolation that a busy teacher can feel.
Teacher coach Cheryl Hubert of Starr King Elementary School stated that being a teacher in the local trenches gives her more credibility with her peers than an outside consultant who “parachutes in” to conduct training.
“They know who I am,” Hubert says. “They feel more comfortable with me than someone from a business [where they] think, what are they selling?”
Some American school systems spend large sums on professional development, the article notes. New York City, the nation’s largest school district, spent about $100 million last year on professional development consultants.
“In most cases, there’s little evidence to show whether the outside groups are helping schools improve,” said Grossman, the Stanford professor.
Long Beach, however, has been a winner and a five-time finalist of the prestigious Broad Prize, given by the Broad Foundation to urban school districts that improve student academic performance and narrow achievement gaps between poor and more affluent students, the report notes. The Broad Foundation cited LBUSD’s professional development as an essential element in Long Beach’s ability to outperform other high-poverty school districts in student achievement. The foundation is among the funders of The Hechinger Report.
Long Beach spends $5.4 million a year on professional development, less than 1 percent of its budget. Professional development here was cut nearly in half during and after the recession, according to the report. In 2006-07, about 4,500 employees attended more than 11,700 training sessions. In 2011-12, about 1,900 employees attended nearly 7,000 sessions.
“We’ve had to take a lot of things that we liked to do in the past and really narrow it down to what students are showing us they need,” Baker stated. “Professional development for teachers, and for principals as well, has been at the core of the work that we’ve done that has garnered results. It’s part of the district culture, and it continues to work over time.”
Learn more at hechingerreport.org.