Saturday, August 22, 2009

Putting the Professional in PLCs

by Steve Neat

 The Oakland Unified School District has yet another idea for something that will solve all of the problems in our public schools. The good news is that this time they are on to something beneficial and substantive—something that’s even supported by the California Teachers Association. That something is the principle of “professional learning communities,” or groups of teachers working together to improve their practice. The bad news is that, once again, the state-run District is not willing to put its money where its mouth is.

In professional learning communities, or PLCs, teams of teachers are grouped together, usually by grade level. These teams meet at least once a week to look at the state curricu-lum standards, take input from the District, and decide the most important skills that they want their students to learn. Each group of colleagues then decides how they will teach these skills, how they will track student progress, and how they will intervene with students who are not learning the skills that they’ve been teaching. 

The issue is that all this takes time. Most teachers already work many unpaid hours a week to plan lessons, give feedback to students, fill out paperwork, and maintain and organize their classrooms. That’s why the creators of the PLC model advocate for time to be given teacher teams to meet during the contract day. Instead of taking responsibility for finding this time themselves, the head office of OUSD has foisted the program onto schools, telling principals to figure it out. Of course at some sites with PTA funds or other sources of revenue teachers have been given an hour a week to meet and collaborate during the school

The District now needs to put the “professsional” in professsional learning communities at schools all across Oakland by putting its money where its mouth is. What’s the point of owning a flatscreen TV if you don’t pay your electric bill? Even a beneficial, well-researched reform is useless if it is not adequately supported. OUSD needs to fund time for teachers to meet at least once a week or not have the expectation that PLCs will take root.
Fund it or drop it. Period.