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Out-of-School Wednesdays Off The Table

After getting an earful from parents and teachers, Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has backed away from a plan to close D.C. public schools on six Wednesdays between September and March next year for teacher training.

A final draft of the 2009-10 academic calendar, posted on the DCPS website late this afternoon before the holiday weekend, shows that the six Wednesdays are now five Fridays. Officials originally dropped the teacher "professional development" days into the middle of the week to make the training--which emphasizes collaboration, reflection, and scrutiny of student progress data--more "job embedded," or closely linked to classroom time, so that what they learned would have more resonance.

But what apparently resonated more strongly was concern from teachers about Wednesday training as a momentum killer that disrupted the flow of the school week and effectively created "two Mondays." Parents were also unhappy about having to scramble for child care in the middle of the work week.

The new schedule still increases the total number of training days from 8 to 10 and ends the practice of scheduling them all during school vacation time in August, December and June.

"After reviewing the feedback, significant changes were made to the draft, reflecting public advice about maintaining the flow of the week, the need for childcare and educational activities, as well as the need for more teacher professional development," the message on the DCPS site said. "This final calendar takes into consideration public commentary and, to the fullest extent possible, balances the interests and needs of children, parents, and teachers."

The plan still calls for the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) to provide educational and recreational activities at rec centers and school sites during the professional development days: September 18th, October 30th, January 15th, February 12th, and March 19th. DPR said more information about the Friday programs will be available before the end of the current school year.

Other proposed changes also remain in place, such as moving spring break from the week of March 23 to the week of March 29, aligning it more closely with other school district calendars in the region.

In all, the new calendar contains the legally mandated 180 total classroom days -- 178 full days and four half-days.

Bill Turque

By Bill Turque  |  May 22, 2009; 7:17 PM ET
Categories:  Bill Turque , Education  
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Brava - Chancellor Rhee backs off stupid decision. Perhaps this is the beginning of a trend.

The question is how could she make this dumb decision in the first place? Her common sense didn't tell her and she obviously didn't confer with teachers or parents in advance. Her staff probably went along with it for fear of being canned.

Will she now pledge to get feedback before making decisions?

Maybe some of her fellow educational bigwigs told her it was a bad idea and she didn't really consider the input of parents and students that much at all.

Whatever - it's a positive trend.

Except for the manner of the announcement - on a Friday afternoon -- typically when you fire people or send a press release on something you really don't want to get much press about.

Thanks, Mr. Turque, for your vigilance.

Have a great weekend.

Posted by: efavorite | May 22, 2009 8:27 PM | Report abuse

Good points, efavorite. I too am glad this ridiculous idea won't come to pass, Turque, you're our only source.

Posted by: chelita | May 22, 2009 9:35 PM | Report abuse

The reason Rhee selected Wednesdays was because she didn't trust the teachers.

Pick Friday for training and lots of teachers will call in sick and take a three day weekend instead, she thinks.

If that is the [low] level of trust Rhee has in her corps of teachers, then we are doomed for failure in this grand attempt at reform.

Posted by: IHeartDC | May 22, 2009 9:48 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Chelita

And IHeartDC -- if Rhee can't get teachers to participate in professional development, what kind of manager and leader is she?

To just assume in advance that you can't motivate your employees to come to work is pretty lame. She should get marked down on her evaluation for that.

Oh, I forgot - she doesn't have an evaluation. She's above all that.

Posted by: efavorite | May 22, 2009 10:05 PM | Report abuse

The first time I heard about the staff development Wednesdays I thought what a dumb idea. I was thinking about parents having to arrange child care in the middle of the week. At least on Fridays, some parents could take a three-day weekend. Friday just seemed like a better day to schedule something that would involve no school for students, like the Friday parent teacher conference day. Then it occurred to me: Rhee was planning professional development for teachers and thought we'd probably try and take those Fridays off. At least if we did, no sub would be needed.
Let's hope there will be some good professional development. The sessions I've been to before have been such incredible time-wasters.

Posted by: chelita | May 23, 2009 7:09 AM | Report abuse

You said it all Efavorite. It was a dumb idea, completely void of common sense. What's even sadder is the fact that she has yet to deliver meaningful staff development. This year alone, teachers and principals have complained about the lack-luster professional development days.

Posted by: candycane1 | May 23, 2009 8:03 AM | Report abuse

And I'd think that getting good professional development to teachers would be a lot easier than her accomplishments to date - consolidating schools, trying to bust the union, going on a national DC teacher denigration tour and firing and hiring a bunch of principals.

There are already good PD programs out there, I presume, that have been successful at other schools, and consultants ready to present them.

I suspect Rhee doesn't really care much about professional development for existing teachers and is only doing it now under duress. She'd rather just fire current teachers and hire ones that she presumes will be "great" because they're like her when she was a teacher - young, from an elite school and without teaching experience or teacher education.

She may not believe much in PD for teachers, period, assuming that teaching greatness is an inherent trait in certain elite, idealistic young people, like herself, in her false memory of miraculous, but undocumented teaching success.

Posted by: efavorite | May 23, 2009 11:58 AM | Report abuse

I hate to admit it because it hurts, but efavorite is so right. Rhee really doesn't care to professionally develop the teachers she has and is doing it as a perfunctory afterthought; she wishes we'd just leave so she could replace us with people like her when she started out, Ivy League backgrounds, not career teachers, idealistic for two years until reality hits them and they move on.

Posted by: chelita | May 23, 2009 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Whether Wednesday or Friday, if this PD is being delivered in a workshop format, research has demonstrated that it is a colossal waste of time. Change in teacher practice is best affected through classroom-based observation, feedback, coaching, and modeling. It's more expensive, but also incredibly more effective. Everyone who studies this issue knows it, giving credence to the idea that this is being done for show.

Teacher coaching would require the kids to be there for the observation and modeling. (Sorry, no closing the schools.) Coaching meetings can be done effectively by giving teachers a sub for a period or after school if the teacher is willing to stay. Peer observation and regularly watching yourself teach on video are also proven ways to improve teacher practice.

Posted by: terpteacher1 | May 24, 2009 8:03 AM | Report abuse

I completely agree with your point that observation, coaching and modeling are the most effective ways to train teachers.

In DCPS we do have literacy and math coaches who could go a long way in filling this role, however, in many schools their time is occupied doing test prep and managing student testing which now happens year round. What a waste of time.

Their hours could be much better spent demonstrating differentiated instruction strategies and supporting teachers while they are in the classroom.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | May 24, 2009 1:03 PM | Report abuse

If mishree was able to provide substantive professional development, teachers would gladly participate. The problem is that no one she has brought in with her would recognize substantive professional development if it slapped them in the face. Terpteacher, you made some good points. Video lessons and coaching are very effective. If anything, the professional development sessions, as poor as they are likely to be under her leadership and the leadership of her cast of characters, most of whom came from the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development's now defunct Edbuild, are more than likely a way to claim to have offered professional development as part of a way to document teachers out of their jobs so she can bring in Ivy Leaguers such as herself. Chelita, you're dead on with that one.

Posted by: southyrndiva | May 25, 2009 6:37 PM | Report abuse

"Change in teacher practice is best affected through classroom-based observation, feedback, coaching, and modeling. It's more expensive, but also incredibly more effective. Everyone who studies this issue knows it, giving credence to the idea that this is being done for show."

First, after ignoring the logical fallacies in your argument, this is not being done for show. Evidence: the staff of professional developers (now "instructional coaches") deployed to schools LAST year.

Second, you're dead on with what works (observations, modeling, etc.) a semi-perfect world. DCPS is far from it. It is a broken, damaged system. In my experience there, the teachers who most need to change are the ones least likely to accept feedback from observations...from coaches, APs, principals or anyone. Heck, John Dewey could reanimate and step into their classrooms and they wouldn't give a rat's you-know-what about his feedback (assuming they even knew who he was).

Lastly, there's a good reason Rhee doesn't expect teachers to show up for PD on a Friday: a quick review of staff attendance on extant PD days (any school, any day). Twisting a teacher's observable, documented behavior into a reason to discount Rhee ("See? This is proof she doesn't trust us!!!" Well, no sh-t, Sherlock. Why should she??) is beyond ridiculous.

Posted by: goldgirl96 | May 26, 2009 11:10 AM | Report abuse

If a teacher (and I am a veteran DCPS one) wants to take a day off to go to a doctor, take care of person business, etc, What day would be better? A day where a sub would have to be called? What day would have less impact on students and their learning? A staff development day or a day when children are at school? For that resaon, many teachers will put children first and not use an instructional day to schedule appointments or take off.

Posted by: chelita | May 26, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Come on, Chelita, let's be honest: how many teachers at your school RARELY or NEVER show on PD days? That's a heckuva lot of doctors appointments...

I understand the desire to not impact instructional days, but there are other commitments one makes as a teacher, such as the commitment to the profession and one's improvement. There are far too many teachers in this city who think they're done learning.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), the people who are always MIA for PD are usually the same people who complain that DCPS doesn't offer them instructional support or opportunities to improve or learn something new. Go figure.

Posted by: goldgirl96 | May 26, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Goldgirl - do you work at 825? I ask because you sound as if you have very little respect for teachers. You also sound like Chancellor Rhee. I won't say exactly how, because I always enjoy seeing it pop up on the message boards and wouldn't want it to stop.

Posted by: efavorite | May 26, 2009 10:58 PM | Report abuse

There are three reasons that explain lower attendance at pd days:

1) Let's look at when a chunk of the staff development was this year. Two days the week of Christmas and two days after school lets out for students. This makes no sense (I am glad to see that downtown has realized how unproductive this is and changed it for next year).

2) All we hear about in the press is how bad we are. Rhee attacks us all the time and appears so focused on making teachers at-will and creating a fear driven school system. This wears down on teachers who are also overwhelmed at working with many low performing children who may act out in class. Many of us do not have the adequate resources and supports necessary to do the job appropriately. How can you expect people not to call in sick or take time off when you treat them like crap?

3) The professional development trainings are often (not always) subpar. Even if part of the session is helpful many educators leave feeling like the day was wasted. When I do go to a meaningful training it is amazing how exciting it can be.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | May 27, 2009 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Let's be real, you are so right on target, especially your point #2. Just now walking back into the building during lunch, I had to break up a fight between first graders, who aren't even my students. We have so many kids who come to us with many issues including abuse and neglect, who don't know how to control their anger. None of these children qualify for special ed so none of them see any kind of therapist. Our school counselor, who is excellent, is too busy being defacto assistant principal, testing chair and anything other duty as assigned to see children who are troubled. This includes children who are acting out due to parents getting separated or divorced, parents in jail (I once heard a little boy say he wanted to kill somebody so he could go to jail and be with his daddy). We teachers do so much yet we need those wrap around services once discussed that never made it to a lot of the schools.

Posted by: chelita | May 27, 2009 1:46 PM | Report abuse

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