Academic journal article Planning and Changing

Legislating Excellence? One State's Response to Mandated Professional Development of Teachers

Academic journal article Planning and Changing

Legislating Excellence? One State's Response to Mandated Professional Development of Teachers

Article excerpt

Background

According to Bolman and Deal (2003), policymakers often step in to make changes when management fails, and these efforts rarely have the desired effect within organizations. This phenomenon has been experienced in Illinois in recent years regarding the professional development of teachers. The State's policymakers responded to calls from the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (1996) regarding teacher quality and followed suit by establishing Illinois Professional Teaching Standards as well as additional legislation to increase the degree to which Illinois teachers engage in professional development (Bradley, Beckwith, & Price, 2001).

In 1997, the Illinois legislature passed House Bill 542 (Public Act 90-548) which changed teacher tenure requirements to a four-year, multitiered system that called for the accumulation of professional development credit for all teachers. According to the Bill, all Illinois teachers had to have Certificate Renewal Plans approved by local councils known as the Local Professional Development Council (LPDC) by 2002 and thereafter. Each plan must include the following: a minimum of three personal goals for improvement, the professional teaching or content standards related to those goals, proposed professional development activities that will help the teacher to achieve those goals, and a time line for completing the professional development activities. In addition, each plan has to include enough professional development activities to generate 120 units (contact hours) over a five-year period. The units can be achieved through university coursework, workshops, or other activities offered by approved providers. The LPDC committees developed to review the plans are to be made up of three classroom teachers, one administrator, and one memberat-large who could be an administrator, a parent, or a business/community member.

Purpose

The primary purpose of this study was to examine district responses to the 1997 legislation. To what degree, if any, did legislative requirements regarding the professional development of teachers affect the manner and means through which districts provided professional development for their teachers? Because the nature of this study provided the opportunity to discuss professional development with key stakeholders across the state, a three-part secondary purpose emerged: to identify the variety of district practices regarding professional development across the state; to determine the degree to which professional development may be occurring within the schools themselves with the responsibilities distributed to teachers and building level administrators; and to identify potential opportunities for universities to become involved in the professional development needs of Illinois schools.

Methods

This mixed-method study primarily involved the use of open-ended interviews with primary stakeholders in representative districts across the state. Districts were identified according to geography, size, socio-economic status of the student populations, and particular attention was given to represent rural, suburban, and urban settings. Initially, fifty districts were identified in a purposive sampling, and of those fifty, twenty districts agreed to participate in the project itself. The districts represented in the interviews included 30% urban districts, 30% suburban districts, and 40% rural districts. In addition, 25% of the districts represented have fewer than 1000 students. Forty percent have between 1000 and 5000 students, and 35% of the districts represented have more than 5000 students (see Appendix).

Interviews were conducted between October 2003 and July 2004 with 21 primary stakeholders in the 20 districts. These individuals included superintendents, local school administrators, and teachers (see Appendix). Stakeholders were identified by superintendents within the districts as contact people most knowledgeable about professional development and the response to the new legislation. …

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