Teacher Training A Key Focus For Administration
Most of the attention paid to the Clinton Administration's education agenda has centered on its push to set rigorous academic standards and create a new system for assessing students' progress.
But the Administration also is placing a major emphasis on professional development, arguing that teachers need more sustained, intensive training to prepare them to teach to higher standards.
The focus on professional development is most obvious in the Goals 2000: Educate America Act and in the Administration's proposals for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
The Education Department also has formed a task force that is to recommend ways to make better use of the professional-development money appropriated under existing federal programs.
"If what we're trying to do is to change teaching and learning,'' asked Undersecretary of Education Marshall S. Smith, "isn't the most important thing we can do is try to help teachers get the training they need to be able to work with students in an effective manner?''
While many educators welcome the attention, there are disagreements over how the government can best encourage professional development that goes beyond the typical one-shot workshops.
The debate is one that has not been heard in Washington for about 20 years, said John F. Jennings, the education counsel for the House Education and Labor Committee.
President Ronald Reagan cut the teacher-development programs that had been started in the 1970's, though Congress began putting money into training mathematics and science teachers in the mid- and late 80's, through the National Science Foundation and the Eisenhower math and science program.
"This will be a big chore,'' Mr. Jennings said. "We're not going to revive professional development in a year or two.''
A growing body of research suggests that without attention to teachers' knowledge and skills, reform efforts may be wasted.
"The Achilles' heel of school curricular reform and higher standards is the relative lack of depth and the execution of staff development,'' said Michael W. Kirst, a professor of education at Stanford University. "There is just no conceptual understanding as to what it takes to implement complex curricular material.''
Good professional development, researchers have learned, brings teachers together in networks that wrestle, over time, with important issues. Teachers should also receive coaching and follow-up help in using new practices in the classroom.
Goals and Funds
A new national education goal, added by Congress to the original six goals negotiated by the Bush Administration and the National Governors' Association, signals the new federal interest in professional development by calling for teachers to have access to "programs for the continued improvement of their professional skills.''
The Goals 2000 law enacted earlier this year, which codified the goals, also requires states that apply for federal school-reform grants to draft improvement plans spelling out how they will help develop teachers' capacity to provide high-quality instruction centered on content and performance standards.
States are to make grants to districts to develop their own reform plans, which must include strategies for improving teaching. They also can make grants to districts or groups of districts to work with colleges and universities to improve teacher education.
The Goals 2000 law puts school districts in the driver's seat in seeking out partnerships with colleges and universities that can meet their needs, said David G. Imig, the chief executive officer of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
"The school of education or the dean has to look outside the university for a connection and a partnership in a much more aggressive way,'' Mr. Imig said.
Links to Standards
The Education Department's proposals for reauthorizing the E.S.E.A. also heavily stress professional development, calling for it to become "a vehicle for reform.''
The Administration proposed creating a new Eisenhower professional-development program, expanding the existing mathematics and science program to support professional development in a variety of disciplines.
The Administration had proposed eliminating the Chapter 2 block grant and combining the funding authorized for that program and the current Eisenhower program to set a funding ceiling of $752 million for the new effort.
HR 6, the E.S.E.A. bill that has cleared the House, and S 1513, the companion bill pending in the Senate, both reject the proposal to scrap Chapter 2. But both would create an expanded professional-development initiative as well.
Both versions of the E.S.E.A. bill make it clear that professional-development activities should be linked to challenging content and performance standards.
But the legislation is flexible, providing not mandates but a list of possible activities that differs somewhat between the two versions.
The money could be used for such purposes as developing new ways of assessing teachers and administrators for licensure, supporting local and national professional networks, or providing incentives for teachers to become certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. School districts could use the money to release teachers from their classes.
In a related effort, the Administration has proposed consolidating more than 50 technical-assistance centers now funded under Chapter 1, bilingual education, drug-free schools, and other categorical programs into a system of 10 regional centers that would take an integrated approach to helping states and districts with professional development and school reform.
Both versions of the E.S.E.A. legislation endorse the consolidation.
A Chapter 1 Set-Aside?
The Senate bill also calls for creating a "national teacher training project,'' modeled after the National Writing Project.
Lawmakers are also considering how and whether to address professional development under the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program.
The Independent Commission on Chapter 1, formed by a group of child advocates, is pushing for a provision setting aside some Chapter 1 money specifically for professional development.
But the Administration argues that requiring districts to set aside money under Title I--the name Chapter 1 would revert to under the E.S.E.A. bills--would contradict its commitment to local flexibility and schoolwide strategies.
The Senate bill would earmark 10 percent of districts' funding for professional development; HR 6 contains no such provision.
"We thought it didn't make sense to come up with an arbitrary percentage required across the board in all Title I schools,'' said Thomas W. Payzant, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education.
But Kati Haycock, a member of the Chapter 1 commission's steering committee, argued that a set-aside would be controlled by educators who are responsible for raising student achievement. Eisenhower money, she noted, would be "in the hands of the district.''
"What tends to happen is schools that most desperately need the help don't get it,'' she said. "Title I has the wonderful benefit of putting the greatest investment in the schools with the greatest problems.''
Are Schools Ready?
While praising the effort to improve professional development, some observers fear that states and districts lack the know-how to follow through.
"How in the world do you now do site-based, continuous in-service education or professional development without any kind of preparation of principals and lead teachers and others to do this?'' asked Mr. Imig of the A.A.C.T.E.
In some of the legislation, he said, "there is a presumption that you put two teachers together and they have a wonderful conversation that leads to change.''
Glen Cutlip, a senior policy analyst at the National Education Association, said the union seconds the Administration's view that "standards and assessments may not be a magic bullet without other things.''
But Mr. Cutlip said he still worries that some politicians and educators are placing too much faith in a "mechanistic'' view that assumes a direct link between setting standards for students, training teachers, and improving outcomes.
"Clearly, it's going to be hard to do this,'' Undersecretary Smith said of improving professional development. But he argued that a policy calling for training teachers to help students reach higher standards will "begin to focus behavior.''
"The only way to get going is to start to stimulate it, showing examples, reinforcing and rewarding, and providing resources when people need it,'' he said.