Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., George LeMieux, R-Fla., and Sharrod Brown, D-Ohio, last week introduced a bill to overhaul the definition of “professional development” in the current ESEA. This may seem like peanuts compared with all the wrangling going on about school improvement and accountability, but considering that that definition is supposed to guide spending under Title I (disadvantaged students) and II (teacher quality) in the law, it’s a potentially significant move.
The new definition would be much more specific than the former one in spelling out that federally funded professional development must take place during the regular school day and must focus on having teams of educators analyze evidence of student learning and teachers’ classroom practices.
The bill would also add a new Part E to Title II of ESEA and authorize $1 billion in formula grants to states and districts. In addition to supporting professional development, they could use the funding to institute comprehensive mentoring programs for new teachers; craft new teacher- and principal-evaluation systems; and create new leadership opportunities for teachers.
On the whole, the bill is similar to one that Reed and other senators introduced back in 2007, but there are a few additions. Of these, the most important is that grantees under the new program would now be required to engage in an evaluation to determine whether the professional development improved student learning, teacher- and principal-retention rates, and teacher performance.
One thing to keep in mind: Bills like this rarely move on their own. They usually advance only as part of a larger package. So it’s a good bet that this one will be wrapped into an ESEA bill or added to it as a amendment while in committee or during floor debate.
And here’s another question I have: The U.S. Department of Education never made a serious attempt to monitor whether federally funded professional development provided under NCLB aligned to the PD definition in the law. Will it be more inclined to do it if this new definition is approved?
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.