Our Quest for the Training of Ethical Decision-Making
With thanks to Thomas W. Bailey, attorney-at-law, collaborator on ethics-in-education workshops
This blog is dedicated to pre- and in-service educators residing and working in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
News from the Pennsylvania Department of Education
In Pennsylvania (as well as the rest of the country), the statistics on school staff misconducts have been rising alarmingly. Sample data from Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE):
Involving more than 2545 PA school staff members since 2004 when they began reporting them, PDE maintains a database of all disciplinary infractions, the names of the offenders and their offenses here.
Besides criminal prosecution, based on the Pennsylvania Code of Professional Practices and Conduct for Educators, conduct that can trigger professional discipline include behavior defined as:
- Immorality – Immorality is conduct which offends the morals of the Commonwealth and is a bad example to the youth whose ideals a professional educator or a charter school staff member has a duty to foster and elevate.
- Incompetency – Incompetency is a continuing or persistent mental or intellectual inability or incapacity to perform the services expected of a professional educator or a charter school staff member.
- Intemperance – Intemperance is a loss of self-control or self-restraint, which may result from excessive conduct.
- Cruelty – Cruelty is the intentional, malicious and unnecessary infliction of physical or psychological pain upon living creatures, particularly human beings.
- Negligence – Negligence is a continuing or persistent action or omission in violation of a duty. A duty may be established by law, by promulgated school rules, policies or procedures, by express direction from superiors or by duties of professional responsibility, including duties prescribed by Chapter 235 (relating to Code of Professional Practice and Conduct for Educators).
“Typically, charges initiated against a teacher on any of the grounds listed above may result in a hearing before a Professional Standards and Practices Commission (PSPC) hearing officer. If an educator elects not to contest the charges, however, a decision on the matter may be made without a hearing. When charges are brought against an educator on non-criminal grounds, the PSPC has discretion to determine if the conduct occurred, if the conduct constitutes one of the grounds for discipline, and what discipline should be imposed, if any. In contrast to cases arising on criminal grounds, the PSPC maintains full adjudicatory discretion in cases filed on the above-described grounds.”Professional Standards and Practices Commission
Ethics Training… on a Personal Note!
As a music teacher for nearly a half-century (35 years full-time involvement in the public schools), not once did I experience someone other than myself and retired social studies teacher Thomas Bailey present a course, class, or even an hour-long workshop on ethics. Obviously, the growing statistics are a concern, but what do you expect when almost no PA-certified teacher you ask can name the title or content of his/her “code of conduct?” Updated frequently, a comprehensive section on this blog-site is devoted to a much-needed exploration of the definitions, research, sample case studies, and “conundrums” in professional and ethical decision-making. Here are some highlights of past articles for your perusal:
- Ethics for Music Educators 2017 – Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3
- Ethics Follow-up (2017)
- Ethical Conundrums Revisited (2018) – Part 1 – Part 2
- Ethical Scenarios (2019)
- Model Code of Ethics for Educators (2021)
- Studies in PA Educator Ethics Case Law (2021)
For PMEA, I have directed numerous professional development webinars or sessions at conferences. Check out the “free” materials posted here.
An excellent perspective on the judicial process for educator ethics prosecutions and interpretation of the PA law can be found on Thomas Bailey’s website and this blog-post.
Finally, it seems that the Pennsylvania Board of Education and PDE have also awakened to this “cause.” In the last several years, there’s been significant movement in the rewriting of statues and regulations, and mandating ethics training in future pre-service, induction, and in-service programs. Below is a quick look at the history (albeit a very slow progress) sponsored by our state government.
History of PA Legislative & Executive Branch Rules Revisions
- Public School Code of 1949 was written by the PA General Assembly regulating PA educators. Section 11-1122 identifies conduct which allows school entities to terminate educator contracts for “…immorality; incompetency; unsatisfactory teaching performance… intemperance; cruelty and persistent negligence in the performance of duties….”
- Certification Act of 1973 established the Professional Standards & Practices Commission (Commission) and ratified the Educator Discipline Act (General Assembly Act 141 document and PDE “unofficial document” amended in 1984).
- 1973: Pennsylvania’s General Assembly instructed the Commission to write a code of ethical conduct for educators.
- 1989: The Commission was assigned the responsibility to provide “due process” and adjudicate educator misconduct complaints prosecuted by PDE.
- 1992: Commission completed writing the Pennsylvania Code of Professional Practices and Conduct for Educators. Copy of “old” code here (PDF or PDE web)
- January 2013 (went into effect): Following the Jerry Sandusky (PSU) convictions, Act 126 of 2012 (“Child Abuse Recognition and Reporting Training”) amended the Public School Code of 1949 to mandate that all school entities and independent contractors of school entities provide their employees who have direct contact with children with a minimum of three hours of training every five years on child abuse and sexual misconduct recognition and reporting.
- April 2019: The Commission proposed a draft of amendments to 22 Pa. Code Chapter 235 (relating to Code of Professional Practice and Conduct for educators)
- January 2020: The Commission recommended to the PA State Board of Education “the inclusion of professional ethics in educator preparation programs, induction, and continuing professional education… Professional ethics are the accepted and collectively agreed upon standards of behavior, values, and principles that, in conjunction with applicable laws and regulations, are meant to inform and guide professional decision-making.”
- July 2020: Proposed review of Chapter 4 regulations (Academic Standards and Assessment) and amendments to PA Chapter 49 (Certification of Professional Personnel) were published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin for public comment and were submitted for review to the Senate Education Committee, House Education Committee, and Independent Regulatory Review.
- December 2020: Proposed amendments to PA Chapter 49 were printed in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, Volume 50 Issue 51.
- August 2021: The Commission posted final amendments to Chapter 235 (Code of Professional Practice and Conduct for educators) in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, Volume 51 Issue 34
- September 2021: Final amendments to Chapter 49 were approved by the Council of Higher Education and by the State Board of Education and transmitted to the Senate Education Committee, House Education Committee, and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission for the final steps in the regulatory review process.
What’s Needed for the Future? Let’s Renew the Mandate to Share Knowledge and Peer Engagement in Ethics Training
Based on Thomas Bailey’s and my experience in providing more than four years of local and state educator ethics and professional decision-making workshops, we recommend the following:
- Presentations should be interactive, allowing time for group discussion, question/answer periods, and “empaneling the ethics jury” to review fact scenarios of identifying levels of ethical misconduct, violations of code and/or policies, and the possible negative consequences, risks, and harm to the students, school staff, and community-at-large.
- Case studies should uncover all aspects of professional educator decision-making: pedagogy, enforcement, resource allocation, relationships, and diversity, and illuminate possible ethical conflicts, contradictions, or “conundrums.”
- Content should include definitions of common vocabulary (e.g. “fiduciary”), and an in-depth examination of the PA Code of Professional Practices and Conduct, Public School Code of 1949 and the Educator Discipline Act, and PA Chapter 126.
- In relation to the PDE Discipline Process, all educators in the Commonwealth should be made aware of PA “governance” and its three independent branches: legislative (statutes), executive (regulations), and judicial (case law), as well as their rights for due process.
- Following the research of Troy Hutchings, the principles of educator “ethical equilibrium” and understanding the differences between a “code of conduct” (more explicit and well defined) vs. a code of ethics (more open-ended, based on the circumstances/context of the situation) should be discussed comparing representative examples.
- Presenters should unpack and apply the standards in the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) Model Code of Ethics for Educators (MCEE). Since the PA Board of Education endorsed the NASDTEC MCEE in January 2017, little has been publicized (even on the PSPC website) about understanding and implementation of this national “teacher code of ethics.”
Thomas Bailey and I are available to present virtual or in-person workshops on professional and ethical decision-making of educators. Please email any interest or questions here.
© 2021 Paul K. Fox