The National School Boards Association (NSBA) has a straightforward response to a U.S. Department of Education (ED) plan to give 252 fourth-grade teachers special training in fractions during the fall semester and then assess that training by observing their students’ test scores the next spring:
Just do the math.
Commenting on the department’s request for what it called “data collection,” NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr. said, “NSBA supports providing opportunities for teachers to receive professional development (PD) to become better educators for their students. However, NSBA is concerned that this Notice goes much farther than merely requesting permission to collect data. To obtain the data sought, ED will need fourth-grade teachers to participate in a PD program that would be squeezed into eight sessions during the already-short first semester of the coming 2014-2015 school year.”
NSBA was the only organization to file comments.
The comments also shared some concerning examples. If the teachers, who would be from Georgia and South Carolina, were expected to attend each three-hour training session during the school day, the time would total 24 hours. That’s “24 clock hours of PD x 252 teachers = 6,048 hours of substitute teacher coverage that will be required to permit the teachers’ attendance,” Negrón said. “Typically, substitute teachers are not paid by the hour, but by the half- or full-day of coverage.”
“This is a big expense that will have a direct financial impact on school districts,” Negrón wrote, “though ED states in its materials that it will not.”
What if the training were done after hours? Technically, teachers are “off contract” during this time and are not required to engage in any duties without being paid overtime, Negrón said. He said it’s unlikely that large numbers would sign up for such time-consuming training as non-compensated volunteers.
“As part of its randomized control trial study, is ED going to compensate these teachers for their 24 hours of PD class time plus the time they spend on ‘additional homework lessons?’’’ Negrón wrote.
If the training were to occur during the school day, Negrón said, NSBA is also concerned about the interruption to student learning that could be caused by a series of substitute teachers filling in for the regular teachers. Negrón noted that not all districts require substitutes to have teaching certificates, and some only require a high school diploma.
Negrón also questioned the validity of the data collected through tests of the teachers’ students in the spring. One question: If teachers had just been given the training in the fall, is it reasonable to assume their students would show significant improvement by the spring semester?
“Working with fractions is a skill that is expanded upon over several years as students progress through a school district’s mathematics curriculum,” Negrón wrote. “It is unclear what one assessment at the end of the fourth-grade year will show to justify the disruption to the educational growth of those students in the other areas of the curriculum.”