Last July, the House Appropriations Committee passed a spending bill that eliminated the $2 billion program that supports improving instruction at the state and local level—Title II, Part A of the Every Student Succeeds Act, also known as Improving Teacher Quality State Grants. Both President Trump and the House justified the cuts with the claim that the “program duplicates activities that may be supported with other funds” and “has not demonstrated success in contributing to improved teacher quality.”
As we’ve argued in the past, rather than eliminating the Title II, Part A program, the federal government could focus on better targeting and tracking the funds. To further make this point, we recently submitted recommendations to the Department that highlight the importance of the survey and suggest changes to better understand the uses of funds. (The U.S. Department of Education is currently accepting comments on its survey that collects data on the use of these funds).
The survey is critical to helping the Department understand how SEAs and LEAs are using federal funds. The data collected by the Department based on these surveys is also important to the policy, advocacy, and research work that organizations like New America and others conduct in order to inform better use of these funds so they effectively meet educators’ needs.
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires that states annually report to the Department how they are using these funds and how activities are improving educator effectiveness, but data produced from reporting requirements as part of Title II, Part A are not easily accessible, making the survey data even more critical. We need more information, not less, to ensure that federal funds are being used efficiently and effectively to provide high-quality instruction for all students. We recommend that required reporting under ESSA be made readily available to the public, in addition to the survey data, to promote a better understanding of how funds are being used to improve instruction.
We also suggest that the Department revise the survey in several ways to enhance the quality and clarity of the data collected. While the information that is currently collected is vital to understanding how SEAs and LEAs are using these funds, the survey can be improved to collect more meaningful data on how funds are being targeted and, to the extent possible, whether these activities are having an impact. Because of the surveys, we know that Title II, Part A funds are spent, in large part, on professional development, but the professional development categories that LEAs respond to are broad, such as how many teachers participate in “professional development provided by professional development coaches.” This does not provide insight into how teachers are identified to receive coaching or whether the coaching had any impact on the teacher’s practice. It would be helpful to know what data school districts are collecting to determine the impact of their investments in professional learning activities and materials.
Another important update to the survey is that it needs to align with changes in ESSA, particularly the new three percent set-aside of Title II, Part A funds. We recommend that the Department revise the survey and collect data on states’ use of the set aside by collecting the following information:
Are states electing to use the three percent set-aside?
Are states using the funding to add capacity at the state level or within LEAs?
How are states targeting the funds?
How are states determining priorities for the use of the funds? (i.e. needs assessments, research and evidence?)
Are states collecting outcomes or impact data on the use of the funds?
Additionally, to align with ESSA’s focus on supporting school leaders, the Department should break out survey questions for principals and teachers so that the Department and the public can have a better understanding of how states are specifically supporting principals. It would also be helpful to know if LEAs are surveying educators about the quality of professional learning activities and whether those activities align to the definition of professional development in ESSA and to research-based best practices. If LEAs are collecting this information, LEAs should report this data to SEAs, and in turn, that should be reported to the Department.
Due to the continued dysfunction in Congress—keeping the government open by passing continuing resolutions and effectively delaying funding decisions for the next full fiscal year—we do not yet know what Congress will ultimately decide for the largest federal funding source for educator development, recruitment, and support. But making these changes to the survey will help strengthen the program and help the Department ensure that federal funds for improving instruction are being invested in ways the ultimately improve teaching and learning.