A member of the Senate education committee is objecting to the creation of federal vouchers for teachers’ professional development.
In a March 16 letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said the plan “violates both the spirit and intent” of the Education Innovation and Research program, and that it also runs counter to definitions of professional development included in the Every Student Succeeds Act.
The U.S. Department of Education said earlier this month that it will use money in the $190 million program to create teacher PD vouchers, based on a proposal U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos made public just over a year ago. The department’s position is that although the fiscal 2020 spending bill passed by the House last year prohibited using that money on the vouchers, the final spending bill for this fiscal year signed by President Donald Trump did not include this prohibition.
In comments explaining the idea from a year ago, DeVos said that in traditional PD teachers “have very little freedom to explore subject areas that interest them” and “little to no say” in the experience, although some education groups have said they’re wary of the idea.
But Bennet, who helped to create the Education Innovation and Research program and is the former superintendent of Denver schools, argued that the vouchers DeVos’ department is now working on “disregards the authorized use and design” of the innovation program in the name of an “ill-conceived” voucher plan. ESSA, he says, makes it clear that such professional development must be “sustained (not stand-alone, 1-day, or short term workshops), intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven.”
“There is no evidence to suggest that giving teachers vouchers for one-off workshops will improve their practice or the outcomes of the students they teach,” Bennet wrote in his letter to DeVos. He urged her to pull the plug on developing the vouchers.
The department has not released information about how much money (total or per person) would be available for these PD vouchers or how they would be distributed.
Read the full letter from Bennet below:
Photo: U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, D-Colo., greets voters before U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a 2018 rally with young voters on the campus of the University of Colorado. (David Zalubowski/AP)