The Federal Role in Teacher Professional Development
The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) provides an opportune occasion to take a fresh look at the federal role in teacher professional development. Funds designed to improve teachers' professional prowess are currently tucked into a number of federally funded programs—programs, for example, for students living in poverty, for children with little or no English language proficiency, and for schools engaged in so-called whole school reform.
The largest federal professional development appropriation, and the only federal effort devoted entirely to this purpose, is the Eisenhower program. Initiated a decade and a half ago, Eisenhower has undergone substantial changes over the years in terms of level of funding, purpose, and mission.
Lessons learned from Eisenhower, considered alongside contemporary research on the type of teacher support likely to have the greatest impact on improving practice to raise student achievement, can inform a new federal role in teacher professional development. In brief, this new role would
- concentrate federal professional development dollars specifically and exclusively to support teachers' subject matter knowledge and mastery of subject-based pedagogy; and,
- require that accountability for such dollars be based on an assessment of teachers' contributions to improving student learning.
This paper is not an evaluation of federally funded professional development, a comprehensive appraisal of the Eisenhower program, or a thorough review of relevant research. The purpose here is to put forth a set of ideas designed to spark discussion about ways in which a segment of federal dollars might more effectively be used to improve student achievement.
This article was originally published in the Brookings Papers on Education Policy by Brookings Institution Press and Journal Storage (JSTOR).