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From Formula to Competitive Teacher-Quality Grants?


Over at Politics K-12, Alyson Klein notes that the Obama administration seems to favor competitive grants, rather than formula grants, in its approach to education funding.

It's a smart observation, and although I'm reading the tea leaves a bit here, I wouldn't be surprised to see the administration try to advance more such competitive grants during the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The big issue at work here is that in shifting from formula to competitive grants, you go from grants where everyone gets a slice of the pie to ones where there are definite winners and losers. We're already seeing that in Race to the Top: The edu-community's latest parlor game consists of trying to figure out how many states will actually receive RTTT grants.

Nearly all the cash that the feds put into teacher quality is in the $3 billion Title II state grants. Title II is less a coherent program and more of a funding stream, since states and districts can do dozens of things with their funds. Now, imagine if that money were put into discretionary, tightly tailored grants along the lines of the Teacher Incentive Fund or other competitions to support recruitment, retention, evaluation, and compensation.

House lawmakers took a crack at the idea in 2007, carving out three competitive programs in a revised Title II draft. But that proposal never gained much traction on the Hill.

In this story, I reported at length on the challenges of shifting Title II from formula to competitive grants.


The thing that I rarely hear in these discussions, and maybe I'm not reading enough, is a focus on teacher training. All of the incentives and competition in the world are not going to turn mediocre or inexperienced teachers into excellent and expert teachers. (I'm not sure that there is much hope for the truly incompetent and the completely apathetic teachers, but my experience in working with and training thousands of teachers leads me to believe these are a small minority.) I know many teachers who would love to be doing a better job, but frankly do not know how because they are not getting the quality training and support that they need to do so. They are hungry for ways to reach and teach the students they see on a daily basis, but become frustrated because they cannot; some give up and go, some give up and stay, but many keep searching. All of these would benefit from well planned, ongoing training and support that is directly related to the needs of students and teachers.

Instead of: "Now, imagine if that money were put into discretionary, tightly tailored grants along the lines of the Teacher Incentive Fund or other competitions to support recruitment, retention, evaluation, and compensation." Lets imagine if these funds were used to support professional development that truly helps teachers improve performance and students achieve. We have research and case studies to remind us there is a distinction between effective and ineffective professional development. Lets not abandon our support for teacher professional development because our track record of success has been mixed. Lets change the approach and limit the uses of these dollars to only those practices that we know will work and improve the performance of more teachers and benefit more students.

I am a teacher of 12 years. The schools have only allowed me to do about a fourth of what I am capable of doing for two reasons. To begin with, we are so bogged down in paperwork, that we never get a good nights sleep. Secondly, we are crushed into a room with over 25 children with no backup for the disruptive. Do you have an idea of the time lost due to disruptions? There have been laws passed that our paperwork should be reduced and principals should take care of the disruptions so we can continue to teach. But if our principal does not want to help us, we don't get help. It is not like we can turn in our principal. You get fired for that. Quickly!! The "Teacher's Rights" enacted by our state legislature is a useless piece of paper. The rights are helpful in lawsuits, but not our everyday life. We see grades going down due to disruptions. We see our energy fading due to lack of sleep. We see marriages fail due to this lifestyle. How many marriages have failed simply because the teacher is chained to paperwork after school? How many of the teacher's children wish their parent could do more activities with them? How many teachers have poor health due to this stressful life of lack of sleep and no discipline help? How many stabbings in a classroom have we stopped? How many deaths have we prevented? In poorly run schools, teachers have been abandoned. We are on our own. Who cares about the money that will never be given out fairly anyway? Who cares about the money, when we are begging for a better quality of life!

Often the crush to have teachers document everything they do is not the idea of the principal but of central office folks and pressure of the test scores; AYP. Are failing schools making gains? For many the answer is YES but can that be seen in a one test measure? NO! It is not a recent discovery that we need smaller classes in low performing school but is that a priority of the central offices?
NO! There is usually a pupil teacher formula that is used for all schools within the system. Until there is recognition for significant change and not
just a lot of talk and debates we will see little change. Give an excellent teacher a pay bonus and all the training in the world without changing some of the teaching conditions and expectations and the end result will most likely be a frustrated teacher who will transfer to a higher achieving school leaving begin a class of children who needed her. We need teachers and educators making educational decisions not politicians.


Please enlighten us on what you mean by "quality training."


Your horror story is why parents opt to send their children to charter schools where administrators simply show these thugs the door.

I agree with Robert's posting. Teacher's leave college armed with the knowledge of writing a lesson plan and teaching from the text, but the training they receive once they are in the classroom comes in the form of mandated trainings on the topic of the day from the powers that be. These are often irrelevant for the teachers and rarely impact the learning environment for the better. Teachers need to rediscover why they became a teacher in the first place; quality trainings on topics that interest the teachers are the best way to begin this turn-around. Training needs to be well-planned- as in a professional development plan, and most importantly, be relevant to what the individual teacher needs to be a better teacher. This doesn't happen if the money isn't made available. Until administrators recognize this and act on it,(most but not all) teachers will never reach their potential as teachers, and that directly impacts our education system in a hopelessly negative manner.

Paul, somehow, in some way, those "thugs" deserve a quality education also. Showing them the door only hurts our society. Schools have to address their needs in a way that allows them to change their actions and embrace learning. Do we know how to do that? It's an important discussion that education professionals need to have. Teachers need help.

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