I have been reading comments about the proposed 2013-2014 Alamosa School District’s school schedule from parents and of course Lance Hostetler’s pearls of wisdom (more on Lance later). Why should the district conduct Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)? The simple answer is: they work to generate positive growth in student achievement.
One of the components of the much maligned No Child Left Behind legislation was the focus on research based interventions, programs and strategies. This phrase was later modified to evidence based. PLCs are strongly supported by research to impact student achievement and increase the effectiveness of teachers and instruction.
In PLCs educators meet to collaborate on student assessment data and develop a response to become more effective in their instructional approaches. The response could address the needs of specific students or specific groups of students. The response may address changes in instructional strategies, instructional programs and materials or scheduling structures. The response may indicate needed professional development for some instructors.
The net benefit of PLCs is the increased effectiveness of classroom teachers and their capacity to deliver effective instruction. The research also overwhelmingly demonstrates that the greatest contributor to student achievement is effective instruction and effective teachers.
Two different meta-analysis of research on the factors that impact student achievement found that the quality of instruction students receive in their classrooms is the most important variable in student achievement (Hattie, 2009; Marzano, 2003). “The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers” (Barber & Mourish, 2007, p. 4)
The issue of contention seems to be between contact time and release time for PLCs. Although contact time is an important consideration and can be addressed in several ways including classroom pacing and daily routine scheduling. Clearly the schedule provides for at least the minimum required hours of contact time for both elementary and secondary as dictated by the state. The question becomes simply are the interest of the students’ academic performance best served for the block of contact time by teachers who are more effective (the benefit of PLCs) or by teachers who are less effective because of not having PLCs?
Most of my professional career in education I have served as a school administrator. I understand that it is often difficult for school administrators to be defensive because of the expectation that you must be nice. Since I am a retired school administrator, I no longer have to be nice.
From 2006 until retiring in 2010 I served as Professional Development Coordinator and Gifted Education Coordinator with San Luis Valley Board of Cooperative Services (SLV BOCES). Since the Alamosa School District and the BOCES have a partnership relationship, I had the opportunity and the privilege of working with the Alamosa administration many times, not only in my specific responsibility areas, but also on many of their committees. During that time I was able to get to know the current administrators very well and also know many of the teachers.
What I know is this is a group of people who are highly committed to addressing the needs of the students in the district. They make rigorous efforts to wisely use resources and seek additional resources. They humbly seek counsel and guidance from outside expertise and diligently work at developing programs. They vigorously seek to include parents and the community in their planning efforts. Therefore, when the administration proposes a schedule that includes PLCs listen to them. You can be sure that the proposal has been thoroughly discussed and explored and there is a consensus that this action will benefit student achievement.
Now let me address the perspective of those whom I would consider the uninformed. Because of the blessing of the first amendment we have the right to express an opinion and some have access to a venue to do so.
Specifically, allow me to address Lance Hostetter’s opinion article, More Focus Needed for Students, of March 9, 2013. From time to time I read Lance’s columns. Sometimes I am amused. Sometimes I am irritated. Sometimes I am embarrassed for him.
It appears Lance has the luxury and malady of youth when a person knows it all. I have read his unsupported propositions and conclusions and just smiled. Lance states the proposition, “this model (release time and PLCs) is wrong.” No, Lance, you are wrong! You do not know what you are talking about.
If you were to do a little research, you would find out that Richard DuFour who pioneered Professional Learning Communities has well established the effectiveness of PLCs. As a matter of fact, Richard DuFour came to the San Luis Valley and conducted a Valley wide professional development conference at Adams State several years ago. Further, if you were interested in current information, I would suggest a recently published book authored by Richard DuFour and Robert Marzano, Leaders of Learning (2011), in which they very effectively demonstrate the value of PLCs and processes for implementation at all levels of school leadership. You see Lance, the Alamosa School District leadership is not wrong but they are on cutting edge of addressing issues related to student achievement. The key is the quality of the instructional contact time because properly managed and implemented PLCs will increase the quality of instruction in the block of contact time.
In the article Lance seems to in a condescending way commend the district for meeting the state standard for the number of contact hours in a school year. Any school administrator who has ever labored over the development of a school schedule knows that the base line is meeting the required hours. Lance rightly observes that the process of ranking school districts in the state of Colorado is unfair because of the many variables between districts. I am not sure what this had to do with the topic of the article. Almost any set of data can be ranked. Simply input the data into an excel spreadsheet and it will do the work for you. Every time you rank a set of data you will have a first, a middle and a last. The assumption is first is good and the last is bad. A set of data that represents a group of high performers will have a first and a last and a set of data that represents a group of low performers will have a first and a last. Usually this ranked information is not very useful.
Lance, smart aleck remarks about turning the kids out on the street only verify my conclusion that you are indulging in the malady of youth mentioned above, but hang in there, time will cure the malady.
In conclusion, trust the leadership of the Alamosa School District. They know what they are doing and they are highly committed to the best interest of the students and the community.
Dr. Elden Daniel