Act 48 of 1999 was set into law by the state of Pennsylvania to ensure that K- 12 educators are getting further professional development after they enter the field. All school districts are required to attend to this law by submitting a plan of professional education development for its staff
One suburban school district in Lancaster county Pennsylvania is explored in this paper. The district's approach to the professional development plan is investigated as well as the kind of activities the district is providing for its staff.Introduction
In 1999 a new law was passed by the State of Pennsylvania that would require all teachers with active certification in kindergarten through twelfth grade to pursue mandatory professional development every five years. Act 48 as it is called, set out specific requirements as to what this professional development was to entail. Each school district in the state of Pennsylvania had to submit a plan for how this would be developed and implemented. According to the state, there are many qualifying activities that will count towards Act 48 credit.
This paper is going to explore how one particular district embarked on this task of developing its plan for professional development. The paper will also take a look at what kind of activities the district is focusing its efforts on for its employees.
In November of 1999, Governor Tom Ridge signed Act 48 into law (Pennsylvania Department of Education, 2000). This act would bring with it mandatory requirements for professional education. The act also mandated all kindergarten through twelfth grade educators in the state of Pennsylvania with an active certification to complete professional development activities. These professional development activities could be earned in many different ways. Certified K-12 educators need to earn " six college credits, six credits of continuing professional education courses, one hundred and eighty clock hours of continuing professional education or any combination of collegiate studies, continuing professional education courses or learning experiences equivalent to one hundred and eighty hours every five years" (Pennsylvania Department of Education, 2000, p. 1). These requirements went into effect beginning July 12000.
The purpose of the Act 48 legislation is to support and encourage high achievement and standards for all K-12 educators in the state of Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania Department of Education, 2000). Each school district must submit a professional development education plan that outlines exactly how the school district will meet the needs of the educators it employs. This plan must be submitted to the state for approval. Section 1205.1 (Act 1999-48, 1999) sets out that each professional development education plan should be developed to meet the educational needs of the particular school group it employees and represents. These plans according to section 1205.1 should include such activities as; professionally related graduate course work, obtaining a professionally related masters degree, Department of Education approved
inservice courses, curriculum development work, attendance at professional conferences or workshops and supervised classroom observations of other professional employees.One School District's Approach to Act 48 Demographics and Background
The district being explored is a suburban public school district in South Central Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The district has 13, 400 residential houses and 31,300 residents. The school population is 5,000+ students in kindergarten through twelfth grade. The growth rate in the district has been 2.5 percent for the past eight years with the expectation that the growth will continue well into the future. The district is home to two elite country clubs, a regional airport, and many businesses. The population of the district is upper to high middle class, with most of the housing developments averaging two hundred thousand dollar + homes. One particular housing development only holds homes valued at five hundred thousand dollars or more. Parent satisfaction is extremely important in this particular school district.The School District's Plan
The school district organized a professional education committee as required by the State Department of Education, which consisted of administrators, teachers, parents, and community members. The stated purpose of the school district's plan is to meet the needs of the distnict's strategic plan which is based on "student, community, and professional input" (Manheim Township School District Professional Education Plan, 2000, p. 2). The district provided a needs assessment survey to all its staff seeking input about what kind of training opportunities the staff would value. This needs assessment,
the strategic plan, and the Pennsylvania academic standards were all used to develop the final professional development plan for the district.
The final plan was "designed to meet the needs identified in a review of the district's strategic plan, Pennsylvania Chapter 4 and the professional employee survey"(p. 5). The options of the professional development plan are intended to "address organizational goals and provide sufficient support over time for all educators to master new skills for the purpose of helping students achieve the Pennsylvania academic standards. In addition these options strike a balance between content, pedagogy, and other skills needed for professional growth" (p. 5).
The plan put out by the district highlights several activities and options that can be used by employees to meet Act 48 requirements. All requirements must first have preapproval by the employee's supervisor. The options allowed are as follows: professionally related course work, PA Department of Education approved inservices, curriculum writing, PDE approved conferences, the district's own professional development, induction program, mentor teaching training, and options approved by the superintendent. The district plan also outlines several outside providers who can be utilized to provide professional development.
The district has made itself a provider of Act 48 professional development. Act 48 providers are provided funds from the state to fulfill this role. In this role the district bears responsibility for reporting all Act 48 activities that occur on site to the Department of Education. The district stated in the plan that they would be a primary provider for the following options:
Review, redesign and restructuring of school programs, organization, and functions as determined by the school entity.
Education in the workplace, where work relates to the professional educator's area of assignment.
Curriculum development and program design activities (p.8).
The district has developed its own program of inservice or workshop opportunities that staff can participate in. This booklet of opportunities is distributed in the spring and it usually quite hefty in terms of the number of offerings available. Some of the programs are taught by staff in the district, and some are taught by Intermediate Unit staff and trainers. The district encourages staff to participate in these programs using two incentives.
The first incentive is called a trade-off day. The district does offer teachers days off during the year. There are three days on the school year calendar which staff can have off These days fall around Thanksgiving, Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, and President's day. In order to have these days off staff must attend one of the district inservices or another organized activity approved by the superintendent. If the employee participates in three trade-off days during the summer, then they are allowed to have the day off during the year. If the employee does not participate in the inservice activities, they must come to work on those days during the year. If an employee completes one or two days they can have that many days off and then must come to work for the day they did not complete.
The second incentive is money. An employee may attend as many of these summer district inservices as they like. If the employee completes more than the three required for trade-off days they are compensated. The compensation rate runs about ninety dollars a day. So, if an employee attends four summer inservice days they can have their three trade-off days during the year and get a check for ninety dollars.
Attendance at the summer inservices has been pretty high. The programs offer a great variety of topics and cover many interest areas. This is a good way for teaching staff to earn their Act 48 credits.
The di strict contract for professional teaching staff was just adopted last year. The contract includes a provision for tuition reimbursement. The contract reads that the district will fully reimburse up to nine credits a year for all professional staff This reimbursement is not contingent upon the institution that the employee attends. So, in other words, the employee can attend Penn or Millersville and the district will pay the full amount up to nine credits a year. The only stipulation attached to the reimbursement is that the course work must be in the employee's field: the district will not pay for an employee to become a lawyer.Conclusion
Act 48 requiring all active K-12 educators to acquire professional development here to stay. At least for now. Districts around the state of Pennsylvania must attend to this new state mandate. This paper discussed how one district is handling the Act 48 requirements. On the outside this district appears to have a very progressive way of approaching the situation. It also appears that the district is really looking out for its staff by providing such a comprehensive program for its employees. One looks a bit deeper,however, and could wonder if this is indeed a good program for employees or an attempt at trying to keep the employees from pursuing further education at an institution of higher education.
The district adopted a contract with its unionized staff that allows for full tuition reimbursement of up to nine credits a year. This contract was agreed upon prior to the authorization of Act 48. With the onset of Act 48 it would make sense for the employees of the district to attempt to further their education by earning another degree or certificate rather than amassing a large amount of random inservice or workshop credits. The district has a captive audience and ties several incentives into their professional development program. Staff who want their days off during the year are going to have to attend the district programs. With the added incentive of being paid for attendance, will staff choose to pursue furthering their education or will they be satisfied with 180 hours of inservice credits? This question has not yet been answered.