Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
Education Funding Commentary

Business Invests in Professional Learning. Why Doesn’t Education?

By Deborah S. Delisle — May 16, 2017 5 min read

When 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.

Business Invests in Professional Learning. Why Doesn’t Education?: A federal budget that guts Title II funding for teacher professional development is a bad idea, argues former school superintendent Deborah S. Delisle.

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 ill-founded, 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.

Profits at companies that invest heavily in training grow, on average, three times as fast as those of companies that fail to do so."

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 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 effectiveness.

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.

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 colleagues.

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.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the May 17, 2017 edition of Education Week as Professional Learning Is Valued in Business. So Why Not in Education?


Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
The 4 Biggest Challenges of MTSS During Remote Learning: How Districts Are Adapting
Leaders share ways they have overcome the biggest obstacles of adapting a MTSS or RTI framework in a hybrid or remote learning environment.
Content provided by Panorama Education
Student Well-Being Online Summit Keeping Students and Teachers Motivated and Engaged
Join experts to learn how to address teacher morale, identify students with low engagement, and share what is working in remote learning.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Join us for our NBOE 2021 Winter Teacher Virtual Interview Fair!
Newark, New Jersey
Newark Public Schools
Special Education Teacher
Chicago, Illinois
JCFS Chicago
Assistant Director of Technical Solutions
Working from home
EdGems Math LLC

Read Next

Education Funding Lawmakers Push $75 Billion for Learning Recovery Among Trio of COVID-19 Bills
The legislation, which also covers school infrastructure and education jobs, could become the vehicle for Biden's K-12 relief plan.
6 min read
Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., speaks during a news conference in Washington on June 24, 2020.
Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., speaks during a news conference in Washington on June 24, 2020.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Education Funding What Biden's 'American Rescue Plan' Would Do for Schools and Students, in One Chart
Biden's plan would provide $130 billion in direct aid to K-12 to help schools reopen, but other pieces would also affect education.
1 min read
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Wilmington, Del.
President Joe Biden speaks last year in Wilmington, Del.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Education Funding Congress Could Go Big on COVID-19 Aid for Schools After Democrats Take Control
Education leaders hoping for another round of coronavirus relief might get their wish from a new Congress.
2 min read
The U.S. Capitol Dome
Sun shines on the U.S. Capitol dome, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Patrick Semansky/AP
Education Funding How Much Each State Will Get in COVID-19 Education Aid, in Four Charts
This interactive presentation has detailed K-12 funding information about the aid deal signed by President Donald Trump in December 2020.
1 min read