Chicago teacher 'professional development' days stumps CEO Brizard

Sorry, but CTA buses and trains won't be running tomorrow.

You'll have to fend for yourself because bus drivers and train operators will spend the day in "professional development," learning how to run equipment they are supposed to know how to run already.

If that's not the most preposterous thing you've ever heard, (it's not true) then think about Chicago Public Schools actually doing much the same thing: Closing the classrooms to students because teachers and staff are engaged in "professional development" days.

The issue came to light when new school CEO Jean-Claude Brizard recently said: "We have 193 days of schools open, but only 170 days that kids can attend school. I'm not sure what happens in those 23 days the kids are not there, but we've got to change that."

Not sure of what happens in those 23 days? I'll I bet the lines of teachers, principals, administrators and union sachems have formed outside Brizard's office, eager to enlighten him about why professional development days, staff development days, teacher institute days and such are essential for the "good of the children."

I don't know; maybe it makes for better teaching. But the fact remains, it's taking time away from classroom instruction, in a school district that has one of, if not the, shortest schools year in America.

If there are any benefits, I doubt that they are "measurable." If someone has numbers showing that development days benefit the children, he must prove that the benefits outweigh the damage done to the children by keeping them out of the classroom for more than a month.

Professional development days are so ingrained that they have become an unchallenged part of standard education schema. Off hand, though, I can't think of any other professional enterprise that shuts down its entire operation to train or retrain its practitioners in things they should already know or learn on their own time. In more than 40 years in the newspaper business, we didn't miss a single day of publication because editors and reporters were off somewhere learning how to write. Sure, every professional needs to keep current with advances in research and "best practices." But you don't see hospitals, for example, close their emergency rooms for doctor and nurse training.

Brizard is turning out to be what was promised: not afraid to challenge the givens. Canceling a 4 per cent negotiated teacher raise for a lack of money was gutsy and the right thing. Even more is his suggestion that the step increases for experience and improved credentials be replaced by a pay system that "rewards excellence and really elevates the profession."

(In this, Brizard made a major public relations blunder by accepting an 8 percent salary bump for himself. Sure, maybe that's competitive with similar positions and maybe he deserves it, but it's two-faced while hacking away at underlings' pay for economic reasons. More important, by making his calls for sacrifice harder to sell, it's not helping the children.)

Super-gusty was his suggestion that teachers visit their students at their homes, perhaps up to twice a year. Actually, it's not such a revolutionary idea; as an 8-year-old, nothing struck more as more out-of-place that seeing a nun in our living room. Of course, she didn't have to fight her way there through gangs, guns and drugs to get there, and teachers have a point when they say that putting their lives in danger isn't a part of their job description (even though some may do it just by showing up in the classroom every day.)

Equally to the point, though is Brizard's response: "Our kids go [home] every single day, so why not?...If our kids go there every single day, why shouldn't our adults be there too?" Predictably, the Chicago Teachers Union dismissed the idea as "half baked." Funny we should hear this from the same group that often blames parents for failures of the school system.

With every contract negotiation we hear the same argument from the union: "We have to (get more money) (reduce class size) (shorten the school day) for "for the good of the kids." If the argument is that everything they do is for "the good of the kids," then maybe then home visits aren't such a bad idea.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Tags: Chicago, education


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  • Doctors and nurses don't get professional development days? I sure hope not. Medicine has a habit of changing over time. So does education. The only difference is that there is no patient-doctor connection that impedes providing this professional development. The hospital administrators can designate that you attend a training and then have another person fill in your shift. In the world of education - that would equate to having a sub. What does anyone remember about having a sub for a day? That it was a free day of instruction. I'm all for increased instructional time. However, I don't think it is up to an individual educator to pay for their own training at their own expense (presumably on weekends or summers) to improve education in the classroom. Were that the case, then no one should be paid to improve their knowledge of their field. Chicago should pay for paid professional development days over the summer when students are not in school (whether our agrarian calendar for school is any longer appropriat is probably a subject for another editorial).

  • In reply to ellie3431:

    Practicing lawyers have to get a certain amount of continuing legal education credits. I don't see the State paying for them. Maybe for an Assistant State's Attorney, but someone still has to cover the court call.

  • Dennis Byrne is showing his lack of understanding about children, schools, and the process of learning. Like many other adults who are not teachers, Mr. Byrne thinks that 'what worked for me is good enough for today's kids'. A 'good enough' education would have us back in one room schoolhouses, reading primers and teachers knocking knuckles with rulers. A 'good enough' education would ignore current research on the human brain, would discount technology and the access to constantly changing information, and would continue to let history repeat itself (and not in a good way!). We should all be life-long learners, improving ourselves and our professions. The analogy Mr. Byrne uses about transportation workers and doctors is a poor one. Certainly, if the running of buses/trains changed significantly we would all want the people who operate them to understand these changes and know how to implement them safely. The companies running our transportation would make sure travelers were not inconvenienced while the learning transpired. I would definitely not go to a physician whose knowledge and expertise was not current! Surgical procedures, pharmaceuticals, and diagnostics are constantly changing and doctors and nurses receive continuing education that benefits their patients.

    While students may not have their immediate lives threatened by lack of teacher knowledge, they DO have their futures impaired. Let the discussion be focused on better logistics for professional development instead of belittling the need for PD. Let the discussion include methods of extending the number of in-classroom days for students and teachers without taking away the importance of advanced training and a means of affording it on a teacher's salary. The majority of educators truly care about children, want to do the best for their students, and work a lot harder and longer than most people give them credit. If you want your ideas taken seriously, Mr. Byrne, it would be wiser to treat educators with the respect they deserve.

  • In reply to sueg13:

    "The majority of educators truly care about children, want to do the best for their students, and work a lot harder and longer than most people give them credit. ...
    Mr. Byrne, it would be wiser to treat educators with the respect they deserve."

    Then don't have Karen Lewis speak for you (or at least CPS teachers). All we hear from them is that "don't take away our right to strike," "if we do more work, pay us more," "we made our pension contribution," "some suburban district pays more," etc. Nothing about the students.

    Also, I'm sure that neither Dennis nor I were around when there were one room schoolhouses. We also had some dropouts in our time, but certainly no social promotion and no need to take a test to prove to the state that high school graduates have sufficient competency to either go to college or get a job. That certainly isn't the case today.

    So, while you may need more training to deal with grade school students who know how to use computers or have a few decades more of history to learn, it is hard to see how the "process of learning" has improved, at least in city schools, since we went to school. We also learned the difference between "concrete" and "abstract." Maybe you can give concrete examples instead of buzz words.

  • In reply to sueg13:

    To speak up for the need for some PD days. At the end of each term, we usually have one of these days. What do we do with these days? We grade all of the exams and end of term assignments so that we may calculate grades for our report cards. That's usually 3 days. There's an additional 3 days that happen at the beginning of the school year before the students report to school. Teachers work getting everything ready for when the instruction begins.We also have usually 2 days at the end of the year where we're closing things down for the year. Not to mention the 2 days we have where we meet with parents for conferences and to hand out report cards.

    Sure we can lose a lot of those days but don't make a blanket condemnation of something unless you really know what its about. Many of the days where teachers are at work but students are off have legitimate and necessary purposes.

  • In reply to MrSilva:

    Then I guess they aren't professional development days, but housekeeping days.

    Maybe you should tell Mr. Brizard that.

    It seems like you teachers have a hard time agreeing on what they are, and then justifying them to the taxpayers. The preceding clause is the bottom line, since unless you work in a private school where people pay tuition, you are ultimately responsible to the taxpayers from whom you demand more "funding."

  • In reply to MrSilva:

    FIRST of all, Brizzard's number of 23 was not right. Anyone can look at the 2011-12 calendars on the cps site and count the student non-attendance days. It's only 11 , not counting the 2 Report Card pick up days. Where he got that 23 number , I don't know . Maybe he added holidays, but even that is only 9. Still doesn't make 23 ( are we worried about the math skills of the man who is now running CPS yet ? ).
    NOW, about those days. Except for the 3 at the beginning of the school year, which are very beneficial for setting up your room and materials, I personally don't care about losing the rest. Many are directed by the Area offices, and of limited benefit to teachers. Some coincide with end-of-quarter grading, but the grades usually have to be in that very same day, so anyone who waits until that day to do it is just asking for trouble (especially since the computer system is SLOW on those days).
    I think changing all the PD days after the beginning of the year to student attendance days is an easy way to add 8 days to the school year and good PR for teachers.
    But it's definitely NOT 23 days , no matter what Brizzard says !

  • In reply to MrSilva:

    (In this, Brizard made a major public relations blunder by accepting an 8 percent salary bump for himself )

    Mr. Byrne,
    I'm glad at least you mentioned that Brizard took a raise. You could also have mentioned that it was 40K more than Duncan used to make, and more than Huberman made just a few short months ago. Also, top administrators at CPS were given raises of between 25K - 40K ... while teachers lost their raises which would have amounted to 2K - 3K a year at most.
    Now, sure, I know there's a lot more teachers and not giving administrators those raises doesn't really solve the budget. BUT... everyone is talking about "shared sacrifice". Where exactly is the "shared" part of that when administrators get raises that amount to half a teacher's salary ?

  • I just looked at the CPS 2011-2012 calendar. There are two tracks. One for regular students, another for year round students. Here are the stats for the regular students.
    Staff Only days: 12
    School Closed days: 22
    No classes for parent/teacher conferences: 2

    Staff only days: Aug 28, Sept 1, Sept 2, Sept 23, Oct 28, Nov 10, Nov 18, Jan 27, Feb 3, Mar 5, Apr 13, June 14.

    School closed days: Sept 5, Oct 10, Nov 11, Nov 24, Nov 25, Dec 26, Dec 27, Dec 28, Dec 29, Dec 30, Jan 2, Jan 3, Jan 4, Jan 5, Jan 6, Feb 13, Apr 2, Apr 3, Apr 4, Apr 5, Apr 6, May 28.

    No Classes Elementary for Parent Teacher Conferences: Nov 16, Apr 18.

    No Classes High School for Parent Teacher Conferences: Nov 17, Apr 19.

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