Educators 4 Excellence, a national group that launched a chapter in Chicago last year, wants to have "Iowa-style caucuses" to determine issues to focus on.

Over half of CPS teachers surveyed for a small-scale study by an education policy group said they do not regularly use strategies learned in professional development provided by the district.

In addition, nine out of 10 said have rarely or never used the district’s online professional development tool, Learning Hub.

The study of 220 teachers by the group Educators 4 Excellence reinforced long-standing complaints by many teachers that the district’s ongoing training for them is ineffective. The report highlighted ineffective practices and offered recommendations for improvement.

E4E listed four main problems with PD: inconsistent quality across the district; a disconnect between PD and the district’s teacher evaluation system, which is supposed to point teachers toward areas where they can improve; a lack of communication about what PD is provided; and few avenues for teachers to give feedback on PD they have received.

“I definitely see that in a district of 22,000 teachers, it’s hard to feel a personal connection,” says Laura Ferdinandt, CPS Manager of Teacher Leadership and Professional Development, after hearing the results. “We’ve got the foundations built. It’s just a matter of communicating.”

Last fall, E4E conducted a preliminary survey of over 300 teachers and identified PD as a main issue on which to focus. Five district teachers, who are also E4E members, volunteered at a March dinner to conduct a follow-up survey to identify specific problems and offer solutions.

“As a young teacher, I’m eager and hungry for knowledge,” says Brooke Craig, a member of the five- person team and a first-grade teacher at the Morton School of Excellence, an Academy for Urban School Leadership school on the West Side.

Suggesting solutions

E4E is a national policy organization founded in New York in 2010, with chapters in Connecticut, New York, Minnesota and California. The Chicago chapter launched last July. The group, which reserves half of its board seats for teachers, is funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates and Broad foundations nationally. In Chicago, The Joyce Foundation and Osa Foundation provide support.

The organization relies on word-of-mouth to increase its membership and the Chicago chapter has had 799 members join since its launch. After joining, E4E members sign a declaration that outlines the organization’s support for issues that include eliminating seniority-based layoffs, reframing how teachers are evaluated for tenure, and using student achievement data as a measure of teacher effectiveness.

(The declaration also states that “We know there is no factor more important to student success than the quality of our instruction,” though among all factors, family income remains the strongest predictor of high achievement. Among in-school factors, teacher quality ranks at the top.)

Among its solutions, the team recommended creating a teacher advisory board; reinstating four PD days per year, which were eliminated to lengthen the school year for students; providing principal training on how to connect PD to teacher evaluations; and incorporating a more user-friendly ratings system for Learning Hub, modeled after websites like Yelp or Amazon.

Theresa Insalaco-DiCicco, a professional development facilitator at CPS who serves as a liaison to the CTU, said the responsibility of improving PD shouldn’t fall solely on the district.

“It is also the teacher’s responsibility to look for some of these things. That’s part of what made me a little frustrated with today,” when the report was issued, Insalaco-DiCicco says

Acasia Wilson Feinberg, the executive director of E4E’s Chicago chapter, says the organization has felt welcomed by Chicago teachers in its first year on the ground.

“Having a place where there’s a solution-oriented conversation is very important,” Wilson Feinberg says, “We saw that demand.”

Evan Stone, co-CEO and co-founder of E4E, said conversations on PD in Chicago will continue, but the process to identify more teacher challenges will start over again “Iowa caucus style,” with participating teachers voting this summer on the next set of issues for E4E to tackle.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Crown Family Philanthropies provides support for Educators 4 Excellence. Catalyst regrets the error.

 Photo: Books on teacher’s desk/


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