Maryland spends up to $1 billion on teacher professional development every year, but there is little to no data showing that teachers improve in classrooms from such programs, according to a recent report.
Public school teachers in Maryland must renew their teaching license every five years, which involves three years of annual satisfactory evaluations and a certain number of hours of state-approved professional development opportunities and courses at colleges and universities.
But the effectiveness of teacher recertification requirements is ambiguous, according to Abell Foundation’s “Reconsidering Teacher Recertification in Maryland” report. And because of how many public dollars are invested in teacher licensure and professional development, it is important to ensure that these efforts are meaningful, Mark Procopio, the author of the report, wrote.
A “Continuing Professional Development” (CPD) credit, which can include courses, workshops, conferences or peer coaching, costs between $30 to $249 per hour, according to the report. This year, Baltimore City Public Schools allocated $2.1 million for tuition reimbursement, according to its budget.
The 2019 Commission on Innovation and Excellence interim report found that Maryland local school districts directly spend $52.8 million annually on professional development, only some of which count towards teacher certification.
Yet, “there is no attempt to make connections between this data and demonstrated growth in teacher practice, quality programming, or where continued learning may have an impact on teacher practice or student outcomes,” Procopio wrote.
Without data demonstrating that the professional development programs and coursework contribute to growth in teaching and student outcomes, the state should not require teachers to take them to renew their licenses, Procopio wrote.
The Maryland State Department of Education did not respond to questions asking if the state collects data on how effective teacher recertification requirements are and how much they spent on recertification credit programs.
MSDE is currently updating teacher certification regulations to require educators and their supervisors to work together to develop an individualized professional development plan, Lora Rakowski, the spokeswoman for MSDE, said.
The draft regulations also expand the ways in which a teacher can earn recertification credit, giving local school systems more flexibility to determine which experiences are most meaningful to a particular teacher, she continued.
Procopio interviewed a dozen people in Maryland with classroom and teacher preparation experience and alternative teacher certification programs for his report, according to Sarah Manekin, the director of research and publications for the Abell Foundation.
However, Cheryl Bost, an elementary school teacher in Baltimore County and the president of Maryland State Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state, said the coursework she took to fulfill her recertification requirements made her a better teacher.
For instance, when her school was not doing well on reading proficiency, Bost said she enrolled in a course on new ways to teach vocabulary and implemented what she learned in her day-to-day teaching.
“I looked at my possible deficits as an educator and my students, and that’s how I chose to do my professional development plan and decide the courses that I wanted to take [for recertification], Bost said. “I think a lot of educators do that. It’s very self-directed.”
“The recertification process is very complex, so statements such as ‘it is good or not good’ are blanket statements,” Bost continued.
David Steiner, the executive director of the Institute for Education Policy at Johns Hopkins University and former member of the Maryland State Board of Education, agreed that there is currently no strong evidence that state-approved professional development programs are effective, and that’s a problem.
“We have no quality assurance that any of this money is really well spent,” he said. “We have no measures by which to say to the taxpayer: if you take part in this kind of work at this university or if you take these workshops, you will become, as a result, a more effective teacher — we have simply no way to say that,” he said.
“It’s hard to think of another profession that spends this much money for no discernible outcome,” Steiner continued.
One way to compare different professional development programs in terms of their impact is for a principal or a group of teachers to record educators and place them in specific professional development programs based on their evaluation of the recording. Then they could record the educator after they took the course and compare their performance from before, Steiner said. National Board Certification depends on video recordings, he said.
“Even within a five minute period, you can tell so much about what a teacher is doing well, what is challenging, what’s not working — it is a very effective way of capturing practice,” he said. However, he said he doubts MSDE has the time or capacity to collect data at this level.
But the state education department could challenge professional development providers to show how they will evaluate the impact of their programs. “So far, we’ve barely asked,” he said.
This is an ongoing issue in education across the country, Steiner said. In 2015, a report by the New Teacher Project found no evidence that professional development consistently helps teachers improve in classrooms.
The Kirwan Commission, a multi-year initiative to reform Maryland’s public education system, recommended raising “the standards and status of the teaching profession, including a performance-based career ladder and salaries comparable to other fields with similar education requirements.”
The landmark education reform bill called the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future was a result of the commission’s findings, and was enacted into law this year after the General Assembly overrode Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s veto.
The report recommends implementing the Blueprint, which includes a career ladder that is intended to provide salary levels that help attract and retain teachers. It offers “job-embedded professional development,” which depends on day-to-day teaching practice. It is a type of professional development that educators value the most, the Abell report stated.
National Board Certification is rewarded in the Blueprint, but not required to advance the career ladder. Furthermore, all principals must be trained in “racial awareness and cultural competence” and teacher preparation programs must include “cultural competence” for students with diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, according to the legislation.
One issue with the current recertification program is understaffing. Support for teachers navigating the process often hinges on how a district’s certification office is staffed, Procopio wrote.
Without support, teachers rely on informal networks to pick their professional development programs. “In such a confusing environment, it is unsurprising that convenience and price wind up heavily influencing the decisions teachers make about their recertification learning options,” he wrote.
For the past few years, some Baltimore City teachers have experienced delays in their recertification applications and, at times, have not received responses to questions about the recertification process.
It took four months for Melissa McDonald, a 9th grade English teacher in Baltimore City, to get her recertification approved after filing her necessary documents. She said she was unable to get a response from the certification specialist about why her application was rejected.
In December, the Baltimore Teachers Union petitioned the Office of Human Capital of Baltimore City Public Schools to require responses from the certification specialist within 10 days. But some teachers are still waiting longer than that, McDonald said.
“There’s very little guidance [on the teacher recertification process], period. They should just have a tutorial where they’re like, ‘this is what certification is, and this is what you have to do, and this is what you could do, and this is how you get things approved’ — I mean it could be very easy. It doesn’t make sense that it’s not easy,” McDonald said.
Every year, Baltimore City Public Schools updates up to 2,000 certifications, but there is only one certification analyst, who is responsible for issuing and processing all types of Maryland certificates, according to Gwendolyn Chambers, spokeswoman for BCPS. The school system recently hired two additional staff members who will be able to process some certificates, she continued.
Another staff member exclusively supports conditionally certificated teachers (first-time teachers with a temporary teaching license), Chambers continued.
McDonald said she felt that some of her professional development courses did not help her become a better teacher. What would be effective is to observe other educators practice a new way of teaching and then trying to implement that on their own, she said. But McDonald said she has not seen something like that offered which would count towards a recertification credit.
“I was able to co-teach a class once with an experienced teacher, and I learned so much more than I ever did in a classroom, so I think that the whole system is set up strangely,” McDonald said.
In the end, having a process that ensures teachers are continuing to learn how to become better educators is important, Steiner said. “We absolutely need another opportunity to work with teachers to improve their craft. Once they’ve started teaching, it shouldn’t be a ‘once and you’re done,’” he said. But unproven seat time is not the way to do it, he said.
Editors Note: This story has been updated to correct the amount of money Baltimore City Public Schools budgeted for tuition reimbursement. The correct figure is $2.1 million.