Up for Vote #4: Title IIA: What a Better Version Might Look Like in Your Neighborhood School System

This is the 4th blog post in the Up for Vote series focused on Congressional action to reauthorize the framework legislation for federal education policy. Our recommendations are based on AIR’s research. Here we focus on issues affecting the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), specifically Title II, Part A. Next up: Early Childhood Education.

Title II, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act aims to increase academic achievement by improving teacher and principal quality. In the Education Policy Center’s new brief, I argue that Congress should reengineer this program to concentrate funds on improving the local management of educator professional development activities and resources. Title II, Part A: Don’t Scrap It, Don’t Dilute It, Fix It offers four recommendations to ensure that states, regions, and districts work more strategically both to develop individual teachers and leaders and to develop—and continuously improve—whole schools and districts.

First, we can focus on building smart professional learning systems for continuous performance improvement. Providing resources, models, collaboratives, and learning venues for administrators in charge of planning and monitoring educator professional development will help. Second, by strategically hiring additional top-performing educators in high-needs schools, we can provide administrators more flexibility to better structure schools for professional learning and improved instruction. Third, we can protect it as a stable funding source and resist combining it with other programs. (Title IIA is due for an increase and has been cut nearly 40 percent since 2002). Finally, Congress could authorize smart ongoing monitoring and evaluation of state and local efforts to use Title IIA funds effectively.

Now, imagine that Congress worked these ideas into the statute. What would effective professional learning systems look like in teachers’ work days and in principals’ routines? What would district-level professional learning managers’ jobs entail? Here is what we could imagine:

Scenario 1: How better managed performance improvement could work for teaching
Jeff Miller and his team of fellow fourth- and fifth-grade teachers are working together to figure out the best ways to increase their students’ use of academic vocabulary during class discussions. Led by a teacher with advanced, state-supported training in facilitation, formative assessment, and literacy instruction, Mr. Miller’s team began by describing their current practices and the responses they’ve observed from students. They then visited two teachers’ classrooms to see one promising practice in action and created a quick way to assess students’ progress. After observing these classrooms, Mr. Miller integrated the practice into his own instruction and solicited feedback from a fellow teacher as well as the district literacy coach.

Scenario 2: How better managed performance improvement could work for principal leadership
Dr. Elena Hart meets monthly with the other high school principals in her region, alternating in-person and virtual meetings. The meetings are led by another specially-trained principal. Each month, two principals share a real problem of practice and brainstorm with the group about possible fixes. During a recent session, Dr. Hart showed her fellow principals some troubling evidence that her teachers were feeling frustrated by what they saw as “forced” collaboration and “data overload.” Survey results showed that her teachers felt pressed for time to prepare for their classes—and that they didn’t need new strategies because they “knew what they were doing.” The other principals offered Dr. Hart several approaches to help focus her teachers’ inquiry on important learning challenges and find solutions that build on what they know and can do. They encouraged her to contact the Title IIA-funded regional professional learning support center to help restructure her school’s schedule and create practical measures to help her team monitor the school’s improvement day-by-day.

Scenario 3: How better managed performance improvement could work in district central offices
District Professional Learning Director Julia Smith brings three sets of data with her to a monthly joint labor-management and professional learning committee meeting: school-level findings from the state’s working conditions survey, aggregated performance ratings for the district’s middle school teachers, and the results of a recent benchmark mathematics assessment. These data sets are then “co-interpreted” using a protocol shared during a recent state professional learning coordinator network meeting. Committee members work toward agreement on key findings and use them to set the agenda for the next districtwide learning event and to help set semester goals for the district’s instructional coaches.

These scenarios are not wholly make-believe. They exist in one form or another all around the country. By reengineering Title IIA, Congress has the chance to make this type of strategic professional learning more common.

Jane Coggshall is a principal researcher at AIR. She provided technical assistance and research support to states and regional centers through the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality and the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders for nearly a decade, and currently conducts research on professional learning initiatives. Prior to joining AIR, she taught middle-school mathematics in New York City.