The Corporate Cost of Poor K-12 Teacher Development

Talent development is a costly, time-intensive endeavor. Some attention further back in an employee's learning journey could mitigate some of that expense.

There is a recurring worry in the corporate business community — how to distill learning into skills and how those skills align with what employers need talent to be able to do in the workplace. And talent, CEOs say, is what will distinguish an organization from its competition, according to the 2017 PwC “CEO Survey.” However, the best way to develop the right employees may be to go beyond corporate learning in the workplace.

Learning and development leaders spend nearly all of their time and effort developing talent, concurrently managing the cost of learning per employee and optimizing learning ROI. But this talent development activity only happens after an employee sets foot into a specific organization. What about all the learning and skills this individual receives before arriving in the workplace? What impact could learning leaders have if they weighed in as far back as K-12 where the foundations of all learning and skills take place?

The key learning metric in the K-12 environment is student achievement. It is defined as the amount of academic content a student learns in a determined amount of time. One of the key motivators for student achievement is professional development programs for K-12 teachers. Let’s unpack that.

If misalignment of learning and business strategy is a great challenge for the corporate learning community, it is gargantuan for the K-12 professional development arena. Worse, there is a pronounced lack of data and research from which to make strategic improvements. One of the most recent research studies, “Reviewing the Evidence on How Teacher Professional Development Affects Student Achievement,” was conducted by the U.S. Department of Education in 2007; it shows a significant metric that is still relevant today: Teachers who receive quality professional development can positively impact student achievement by 21 percentile points.

Look at it like this: A K-12 teacher in the United States typically impacts 25 students in every class. During a career, that teacher touches about 4,000 students’ lives. Thus, the ROI is 25 times greater when investing in K-12 teacher professional development. That doesn’t reflect that teacher’s impact on how those students perform once they are in the workplace, but the two are certainly not unrelated.

Corporate learning leaders traditionally focus on developing and delivering quality learning and development programs for their organization’s talent; the goal is to increase performance, productivity and profitability. In the K-12 world, school administrators focus on developing and delivering opportunities for quality professional development programs for teachers who educate the K-12 students who become the talent pool CLOs care about most. Today, CLOs and corporations collaborate heavily with universities to strengthen their talent pools, but they do not seem to engage much — if at all — with K-12 teachers. Yet, that is likely where the conversation and the collaboration needs to begin for a credible and sustainable workforce development debate.

One organization, the Computer Science Teachers Association, has embarked on a journey to begin such a conversation. [Editor’s note: The author works for CSTA.] CSTA has more than 25,000 members globally and was developed by the Association for Computing Machinery to engage, empower and advocate for K-12 computer science teachers.

In reviewing the research, CSTA found that a lack of formalized professional development for K-12 computer science teachers endangers the U.S.’ ability to compete in the global economic arena because it results in limited or lagging digital learning for K-12 students. Further — and this is specific to K-12 computer science teachers’ needs — research data released this year from Stanford University, “Recommendations for Designing CS Resource Sharing Sites for All Teachers,” shows that K-12 computer science teachers are facing four key professional development challenges:

  • It’s difficult to locate and access high quality professional development programs and resources.
  • They spend a lot of time searching for resources to use in class.
  • It’s difficult to search for and adapt computer science related content to student needs.
  • They lack guidance, especially teachers who are new to computer science curriculum.

To address these challenges, the CSTA built a professional development pipeline for K-12 computer science teachers. The pipeline will provide every K-12 computer science teacher with access to professional development resources, the ability to earn microcredentialing badges, connect with other computer science teachers anywhere and access and track their professional development.

After weeks of research and discussions with several learning and development vendors, CSTA partnered with Degreed, in part because of the analytics their system offered. “But during the initial conversations … we realized that we had to rethink the whole situation,” said Mark Nelson, executive director, CSTA.

“Our problem wasn’t in simply providing quality training, it was a workforce development problem. We needed to make sure our workforce was continually learning, growing and had the skills that matched the current market needs to be able to grow talent.” This resonates with the challenges learning and development leaders grapple with in the corporate arena.

CSTA’s continuing professional development pipeline addresses the key challenges K-12 computer science teachers face today in their quest for professional development. Specifically, it offers curated pathways for professional development resources across relevant areas specific to computer science, including coding, cybersecurity, data analysis, gaming, mobile and robotics, as well as teacher leadership. The pipeline also focuses on a secondary challenge around time consumption with a daily and weekly feed of professional development and computer science-related resources such as books, articles and videos geared toward the teacher’s interests and needs.

To deal with the third challenge of adapting content to classroom needs, the CSTA pipeline offers multimodal resources from more than 1,300 providers including universities, Khan Academy, TED Talks and Big Think. Lastly, to tackle the fourth challenge of teachers new to computer science who are seeking guidance, the pipeline offers self-assessments and development pathways for teachers to build their confidence teaching the unfamiliar material in the classroom. Having access to professional development resources enables teachers to enhance their students’ learning experience and subsequently better prepare them for the workplace. This helps to alleviate much of the burden learning leaders face downstream in their often-costly and time-intensive efforts to nurture and develop that same talent.

The learning structure and professional development resources offered to the aforementioned K-12 computer science teachers closely mirror solutions corporate learning leaders put together to meet workforce development needs. Since their methods and means are so similar, why don’t more K-12 educators partner with learning leaders to share resources? One hand washing the other would create better outcomes for both.

Further, consider the other side of the demand for professional development for K-12 computer science teachers: the supply of professional development programs. Currently, professional development providers operate in limited geographies, and they face significant challenges in reaching K-12 computer science teachers and administrators. Many are not scaling because they are unable to afford the marketing and communications costs required to reach their intended audiences.

The CSTA pipeline will address those challenges by inviting professional development providers on board, after a content and technological readiness vetting process. Then, those vendors can offer their professional development to thousands of K-12 computer science teachers at scale. Partnerships like this, that enable learning vendors to focus on K-12 teacher professional development programs, will have a role to play in the broader learning challenge of upskilling the incoming workforce. They help to ensure that learning is distilled into the skills necessary to advance corporate organizations’ strategic goals.

The cost for each K-12 teacher’s professional development ranges between $8,000 and $18,000 per year. That cost divided by 25, representing the number of  students typically accounted for in each classroom, translates into an investment of up to $720 for each student. If the $18,000 investment in K-12 teacher professional development is not made, it robs the student of an enhanced learning experience. Again, this has a direct impact on the costs learning leaders and their organizations expend each year on workforce development. According to LinkedIn’s 2017 “Workplace Learning Report,” a few years down the line the cost of disengagement — a common side effect when learning and development falters — can balloon up to $50,000 per employee. That disengaged employee is yesterday’s unattended-to K-12 student, who now has neither the skills nor any interest in acquiring them through their organization.

Therefore, the K-12 professional development space is of notable importance for the corporate learning leader. There are vast challenges and key opportunities for further analysis and growth. Corporate learning leaders and learning technology executives are well-positioned to begin this specific conversation with nonprofits and associations engaged in K-12 teacher professional development.

The goal for those kinds of conversations should be to identify specific skills employees need in the workplace today and leading to say, 2020, then work backward to map these to K-12 teacher professional development programs. Such mapping could be game changing at many levels including best practice sharing, articulating learning and specific skill needs for tomorrow’s talent pool and identifying gaps in professional development for K-12 teachers.

Chief learning officers, learning technology executives and learning vendors need to work together to look at learning and skills as early as K-12 in their efforts to tackle current and recurring corporate talent development challenges. Such proactive engagement can reorganize the educational and learning journey, starting with K-12 teachers’ professional development. It could unlock the gridlock brought on by a lack of access and equity, which ultimately hamper learners’ opportunities at the micro level and social and economic growth at the macro level.

Marina Theodotou is the director for professional development at the Computer Science Teachers Association. Comment below, or email editor@CLOmedia.com.

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