PDF PDF    printable version of page Printer-friendly page

Focus On Basics

Volume 5, Issue D ::: June 2002

A Conversation with FOB...

Three States Share Advice on Staff Development

Focus on Basics talked to Bob Bickerton, state Director of Adult Basic Education in Massachusetts; Roberta Pawloski, Chief, Bureau of Career and Adult Education in Connecticut, and Ella Morin, Special Programs and Projects Division Chief in Bureau of ABLE, Pennsylvania, about the role of the state in staff development for adult basic education. Each spoke about the strong responsibility states have in this regard.

Massachusetts' Bob Bickerton describes his state's role in shaping and supporting staff development as "convening the field to develop a consensus around two broad issues: the level of investment we'll put into staff and program development, and what the priorities need to be for that staff and program development. Bringing people together to get consensus is key."

In Pennsylvania, a similar partnership between the state and the field has been forged, reports Ella Morin. "We have a bottom up / top down relationship [with the field]," she explains. "With the state leadership funds, we provide professional development opportunities that the field feels are needed. For example, several years back, when we began the program improvement initiative, we discovered some basic needs, such as assessment. We found that programs didn't use consistent pre and post tests, that they weren't using the data... so we did training on assessment, then branched out to connect it with the National Reporting System. So that area of training is a state idea but also shaped by what is happening in the field."

These three states fund organizations to provide staff development services to adult basic education programs and practitioners. Connecticut's Roberta Pawloski explains, "When provision for professional development became part of federal legislation (in around 1965), Connecticut's Department of Education made a commitment to offer professional development on a statewide basis through a single organization, the Adult Training and Development Network. Part of the Capital Regional Education Council, a regional educational service center, it's a quasi-public agency that competed for and receives a multi year grant from us. We work closely with them. Their training enhances our policies. Each year we revise the goals and objectives and they revise their plans. All the training we do statewide is coordinated through that agency. For example, we are a CASAS implementing state, so they [the Adult Training and Development Network] handle the ongoing Connecticut CASAS System training for new programs. They also provide the statewide coordination of our English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) institutes, tech efforts, reading and writing initiatives, our workplace training."

In Massachusetts, Bickerton says, "The field has said that we're going to target 10 percent of our total resources as the investment for this. Our office's role is to be sure that we build and support SABES [Massachusetts' statewide staff development system]. At $3 million year, it's one of the best-supported program and staff development systems in the nation. We also support, via $.5 million of federal Special Ed funding, the Young Adults with Learning Disabilities (YALD) program, which we use to better prepare teachers to instruct students with learning disabilities. We annually negotiate a work plan with SABES and YALD, and in that process we listen to what they have learned from the field about professional development needs. We also support new initiatives and directions and that becomes a relatively expensive work plan for the coming year."

Combining federal and state and local funds seems to be key in all three states. As Bickerton explains, "Our federal allocation is only $10.5 million dollars. We require every grantee to set aside funding to support access to additional staff development (up to 50 hours of staff development per year for everyone, and 3.5 percent for program development.) That adds another $2 million to staff and program development, above the $3 million that goes to SABES."

Pawloski describes Connecticut's approach: "Our primary delivery system is the local school district. Our state law requires all local school districts to offer on-site or cooperate with another district for adult basic education (ABE), ESOL, citizenship, and high school completion. The state reimburses districts on a sliding scale for the cost of operating the program. Local districts also have to provide matching funds in cash. These state and local dollars give us tremendous leverage, allowing our federal dollars to do local enhancement."

Emphasizing the need for staff development through the funding process as well as supporting it financially creates a climate that encourages staff development. In Massachusetts, a set-aside for staff development is not requested of programs: from 1991 it has been required, explains Bickerton. "It's encouragement and exercising some direction. We don't believe in unfunded mandates; you [the state] have to pay for the real costs. In addition to the 2.5 percent [required], we give programs comfortable funding for substitutes...and I think we've created an environment that encourages people to stay focused on honing their skills. We are trying to do a better job. These changes provide enormous motivation and need for people to provide further development."

"In addition to the set-aside," he explains, "we require that every program identify a staff and program development facilitator to help the program integrate staff and program development. We also require every staff to take new staff orientation. And, we apply this focus to our own office: every person on staff has to include in their annual evaluation form their goals for professional development for the year. We practice what we preach."

Connecticut programs report via proposal in their annual applications what they have chosen as their target area for professional development and how they plan to do it. "We allow them to put in the cost of professional development activities and allow them to put the cost of substitutes into their state grant," explains Pawloski.

Pennsylvania programs do the same: "In part of the proposal that they write for funding, [programs are] supposed to talk about the professional development that they do for program improvement. Part of that is identifying needs for professional development," reports Morin.

These experienced policy makers have much useful and practical advice for other states. Bickerton has four suggestions:

  1. Make sure that the state is dedicating resources to support professional development at all of its different levels. Unfunded mandates only yield illusions. You really need to provide the supports.

  2. Look at the literature of high performance workforces if you're concerned about this funding competing with the dollars for direct services. Business has learned the need to invest in high performance workforces.

  3. Get the field's consensus and support about the resources necessary to invest for this...the field has to be united behind any investment of time and money.

  4. Visit other states and look at what they're doing in professional development. We don't have to reinvent wheels.

Pawloski focuses on the diversity of states, and the need to contextualize decisions. "A lot depends on how much funding a state has available for this activity. How much has to be assumed by the state DOE? 12 percent is all you have available without state money. Also, states really need to look at what is most effective delivery mechanism based on the needs of their state. How much collaboration and assistance can they get from existing organizations and entities or at the local level? I can't say one approach, local or centralized, for example, works better. Sometimes if you diffuse professional development to the local level totally, it's hard to assure it's happening. A centralized system works for us: I can, on an annual basis, direct more of how I want the professional development money to be spent. If we hear, during the course of a year, for example, that we have a gap in this, we can negotiate the inclusion of that topic."

Vision and leadership are also important, Morin reminds us. "Cheryl [Keenan, the former Bureau Director of ABLE in PA] had a long-range vision. She knew where she wanted the state to go. It can't be haphazard. There has to be a plan. Program improvement and accountability have helped a lot in shaping and identifying [professional development] needs, and then the state provides opportunities for professional development along those lines. I really like to think that we're meeting the needs of programs. You have to have buy in from the bottom up; the field has to see that it's not being "inflicted" on them, but that it's happening because they said they needed it."

Updated 7/27/07 :: Copyright © 2005 NCSALL