The Effectiveness Dilemma
Teacher prep programs have mixed results but experts question President Donald Trump's decision to cut them.
By Lauren Camera | Education Reporter, April 21, 2017
The most important factor in a student's academic success is an effective teacher, most education policy experts agree. In fact, high quality instruction can counter crippling disadvantages, like those associated with low socioeconomic background.
That's why Florida's Palm Beach County school district, where about 65 percent of its 190,000 students are poor enough to qualify for free and reduced-priced lunch, places so much emphasis on teacher preparation and professional development.
"As a superintendent, the better you hire and the better you develop, the better the outcomes," says Robert Avossa, superintendent of Palm Beach County school district. "We have to invest in people and we have to invest in them fast and furious because the kids are coming to us more and more disadvantaged, more children from single-family homes, more children living in poverty."
If having great teachers in the classroom is so important, why then is $2.4 billion in federal funding for teacher preparation, the third-largest federal K-12 program in the country, on the chopping block?
The Trump administration's fiscal 2018 budget proposal calls the program, known as Title II, Part A or the Supporting Effective Instruction grant program, "poorly targeted and spread thinly across thousands of districts with scant evidence of impact." Its axing is one of the biggest single-line items up for elimination in the president's sweeping $9 billion cut to federal education programs.
As it turns out, the Trump administration isn't the first to take aim at the program, which was also a favorite punching bag of former Education Secretary Arne Duncan during the Obama era.
"At the federal level, we spend $2.5 billion a year on professional development," Duncan said in 2012. "As I go out [and] talk to great teachers around the country, when I ask them how much is that money improving their job or development, they either laugh or they cry. They are not feeling it."
To be sure, Duncan focused a majority of his efforts on increasing the effectiveness of teacher preparation by demanding more accountability from colleges of education, and never backed a wholesale elimination of the program. But the sentiment is the same: professional development has become a dirty word.
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