Education Week - May 17, 2017 - 28
Professional Learning Is Valued in Business.
So Why Not in Education?
By Deborah S. Delisle
hen I was the school superintendent in Cleveland Heights,
Ohio, from 2003 to 2008, we
served a highly diverse population that included children who
were homeless, as well as children whose families lived in capacious mansions. Their needs
were as varied as the differences in their circumstances. To
meet those needs, principals met regularly with teachers to
analyze students' progress, identify their specific strengths
and weaknesses, and determine how best to serve them.
They also developed professional-learning plans to ensure teachers and principals were effectively utilizing resources and expanding their knowledge base. I saw firsthand how federal Title II dollars supported professional
learning in ways that mattered to our educators and, ultimately, our students.
Now, all across the country, educators are worried that
they won't have those same opportunities. They worry that
not only will their professional growth suffer, but so will
their students' learning. The source of that concern is the
Trump administration's proposal to eliminate the $2.25
billion Title II, Part A, program, also known as Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants, in the fiscal 2018
federal budget. The bipartisan deal Congress reached to
fund the government until September has already slashed
Title II by $294 million, which suggests President Donald
Trump may win further cuts next year.
Not only is this cut at odds with the needs of teachers and
students, but it also runs counter to how successful businesses operate. During his campaign, Trump argued that his
success as a businessman showed he would be a good president. That claim resonated with many Americans, especially
those struggling economically. The pragmatism, hard-nosed
focus on the bottom line, and willingness to take calculated
risks that made Trump billions would surely help "Make
America Great Again."
The cuts to this vital program are shortsighted and illfounded, however.
As of 2012, American businesses spent more than $164 billion a year on training and talent development, according to
Sarah Perez, who leads the M.B.A. for executives program at
the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. These businesses know that helping employees develop technical skills
and advance their careers improves retention, motivation,
engagement, and productivity. Profits at companies that invest heavily in training grow, on average, three times as fast
as those of companies that fail to do so.
Talent development is even more important in education. It
is well established that teacher effectiveness affects student
learning more than any other school-related factor. The quality of a principal is the second-biggest contributor, and that is
especially so at schools striving to improve. Poor leadership
is the No. 1 reason teachers cite for requesting a transfer to
a new school or quitting the profession entirely. In fact, many
school districts use some of their Title II money to help principals become successful leaders.
In my former district, we also used Title II funds to reduce
class sizes in the primary grades and provide teachers with
more opportunities to interact with children in literacy, especially to attend to the enormous difference in vocabulary
between disadvantaged children and their more privileged
peers. We also hired literacy coaches to help teachers expand
their knowledge, skills, and practices to address this literacy
gap. High school teachers in small, themed schools worked
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Profits at companies that invest heavily
in training grow, on average, three
times as fast as those of companies that
fail to do so."
collaboratively to design more student-centered practices and
personalized instruction for students at different skill levels.
Regardless of how the money is spent, the Trump administration justifies eliminating the Title II program by claiming there is scant evidence that it improves student learning. That is true if one is seeking to show a direct correlation
between the program and higher test scores. One big reason
it's currently impossible to show that correlation is that the
federal government does not collect data on the program's
However, even without hard data, Congress gave the program a strong bipartisan endorsement when it passed the
Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015. ESSA, of which Title II
is just one part, strengthened the program, redefining allowable professional-development activities to make them more
effective. According to ESSA's higher standard for professional development, sessions during which speakers drone on
for hours from the front of the auditorium are out; "sustained,
collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, and classroom-focused" efforts to help teachers and principals provide students
with a well-rounded, rigorous education are in.
Those five criteria for high-quality professional development were not chosen lightly. They reflect characteristics
supported by research on how to improve instruction.
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Inspired by that language, many states are already reimagining their approach to professional learning and talent development, with a special focus on increasing equity.
For example, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, and North Dakota
are planning to establish mentoring programs for new principals. Tennessee hopes to continue its Teacher Leader Network, which provides guidance to districts that want to create advancement opportunities tied to student achievement.
Several states want to use new flexibility in the law to create
or support teacher residencies, which allow those new to the
classroom to learn the craft by working alongside experienced
Whatever states and districts choose to do, ESSA requires
them to show that their chosen strategies have been successful. This means that, over time, we should be able to identify
approaches that are not making a difference for students and
educators and shift resources to what is working. Essentially,
Title II funding would continue to support communities of
practitioners dedicated to enhancing the art and craft of
teaching and leading.
Investing in talent to improve outcomes should appeal to
the president, the bottom-line businessman. Failing to invest
is not smart business, nor is it smart policy. Congress must
reject the president's proposal and insist that the federal government continue to support state and local investments in
educators and students. All our students deserve an education that allows them to reach their potential, and our educators must be equipped to provide it. Students' lives depend
on it, and so do the strength and prosperity of our country. n
DEBORAH S. DELISLE is the executive director and CEO of ASCD, an
international membership organization of teachers and school leaders.
She served as the U.S. Department of Education's assistant secretary
for elementary and secondary education in the Obama administration
from 2012 to 2015.