PICTURE a medical practice where all the doctors have been preparing to implement a new set of rigorous patient-care standards. This group has been meeting for a few hours every week to learn about the latest practices and to teach each other new ways to make treatments more effective based on their experiences.
Now imagine a new rule that prevents them from meeting.
We find ourselves in this very situation in the state of Washington today — not in the medical field, but in public education.
The law increases the amount of teachers’ time to 1,080 hours of instruction for each grade from seventh to 12th grade, starting in August. This replaces the current system that required a districtwide annual average of 1,000 hours of instruction among grades K-12 throughout the 180-day school year.
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The state Legislature had good intentions, wanting to increase the required number of credits for graduation. Lawmakers also provided some funds to implement the extra hours.
School leaders support having extra time for student instruction. Unfortunately, there will be some unintended consequences with this new law: It effectively makes it impossible to provide time during the contracted day for professional educators to meet and discuss the work they are doing each day with students.
One of the fixes being considered is adding time to the teachers’ work calendar so educators could meet three times during the year to improve classroom techniques as a group. It is not frequent enough. Learning students cannot wait for their teachers to attend three meetings spread throughout the school year.
Educators in Washington’s classrooms need a weekly block of time to meet as professionals to collaborate and make changes for their students. Researchers are absolutely clear that this is one of the most effective strategies to improve student performance. The Legislature, state Board of Education and the local school districts have the ability to institute a plan that fits with this research.
Solution: There is an extra hour in each teacher’s contracted day that is traditionally used for meeting with parents and students. The problem is that many districts had already bargained away that time with language that matched the new law.
If the Legislature wants more instructional hours and if the teachers themselves need collaboration time, the state could pass a law that would allow a school district to add additional instructional time during a portion of the 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after school time during existing paid contractual time. Schools could then provide for the weekly professional collaboration work, and no additional money would be needed to pay for it.
Teachers and schools districts need a new law that gives the local school boards the right to control this time. The Legislature can still provide the districts with the additional resources that would have targeted using the three extra days for professional development and allow schools to use the time already built into the contracted day to add the time. Everyone comes out a winner.
Would you take your child to the medical facility where doctors have no time to collaborate? Or would you take your child to the a place where the professionals had the chance to work together to determine most effective practices?
Let’s give our children the best chance for a better future. Providing teachers with time on at least a weekly basis to review lessons and practices with fellow educators and to share data for adjusting teaching would maximize their instruction for all students.
Kevin Chase is superintendent of Grandview School District in Central Washington.