Federal Teacher-Quality Efforts Not Coordinated, GAO Says

By Stephen Sawchuk — August 10, 2009 2 min read
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The federal government’s programs for improving the quality of teachers are not well-coordinated and contain no strategies for working systematically to improve teacher quality and student achievement, the Government Accountability Office says in this report.

The U.S. Department of Education administers 23 programs focused primarily on the goal of improving teacher quality and an additional 33 programs with other goals that allow funds to be spent on some teacher-related activities. Of the 23 programs specifically focused on teacher quality, only nine have been evaluated or are in the process of being evaluated, the report says. Eleven others have been financed for seven years or more and have never been evaluated.

Issues with coordinating programs involve such challenges as differing data systems and cross-division communications, but also some structural issues inherent in the design of the programs. For example, the Title II-A state teacher-quality funds in the No Child Left Behind Act are directed toward “high need” school districts, as are the Math and Science partnerships. But while federal law defines high-need school districts for Title II, it allows states to define the term for Math and Science partnerships. States, unsurprisingly, have a looser definition, and the funds are more thinly spread and not coordinated.

And per this item, the report also discusses some of the challenges of evaluating Title II, which at $3 billion is by far the largest federal teacher-quality grant program. One of the reasons it’s hard to evaluate the Title II-A formula dollars is that they are so often combined with state and local resources, so that it’s challenging to separate out the effects, the report says.

Perhaps so, but I’d argue that that is still a serious deficiency in the program. For comparison’s sake, think about all the fuss about transparency and accountability ED is making about the Race to the Top, a one-time $5 billion infusion. Now compare it with the Title II grants, $3 billion ANNUALLY that you almost never hear anything about.

As one source pointed out in a story I did on this topic last year, that part of the NCLB law has few measurable objectives; putting them in might be a way of trying to gauge the effects of these dollars.

The Center for American Progress has some additional ideas here.

But as a broader question, how do you think the federal government could better coordinate its teacher-quality efforts? Remember, Congress will be dealing with this when NCLB comes up for renewal again. Opportunity knocks.

Post your ideas and let us all know.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.