Brief: Title II, Part A: Don't Scrap It, Don't Dilute It, Fix It.

Jane Coggshall

The Issue

Washington is taking a close look at Title II, Part A (Title IIA) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as Congress debates reauthorization. The program sends roughly $2.5 billion a year to all states and nearly all districts to “(1) increase student academic achievement through strategies such as improving teacher and principal quality and increasing the number of highly qualified teachers in the classroom and highly qualified principals and assistant principals in schools; and (2) hold local educational agencies and schools accountable for improvements in student academic achievement” [Sec. 2101]. Although state, district, and school leaders may use these funds on a long list of permissible activities (including tenure reform, student loan forgiveness, and educator bonuses), most districts spend the bulk of their Title IIA dollars on professional development and class-size reduction. But is this investment delivering all that it could?

The Research

Teacher professional development, as defined in the law and pursued in districts across the country, has shown mixed—mostly disappointing—effects on teacher practice and student learning. Sound educator learning activities and resources are critical to effective teaching and leading as well as to continuous improvement in our schools. Yet, 13 years and some $30 billion later, Title IIA has not had the effect on teacher and principal quality or student achievement its creators hoped.

The Recommendations

Congress should redefine “professional development” and reengineer Title IIA to focus strictly on continuous performance improvement—of people and organizations—while keeping implementation flexible. A new Title IIA would make certain that state, district, and school leaders have the capacity required to manage professional development activities and resources more effectively to achieve Title II’s vital student achievement goals. This brief lays out what Title IIA is and what it could be and points to some district and school leaders who are figuring it out for the rest of us.