Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, provides approximately $3 billion to support state and district-level activities that improve teacher and principal quality and thereby improve student achievement. However, there is little proof that the program is achieving this goal. According to Andrew Rotherham of Education Sector, “tangible results from these efforts are scant, and there is little evidence that these funds are driving the sort of changes needed to help schools recruit, train, place, induct, and compensate quality teachers or changes that are aligned with broader human capital reform efforts in education.”
Part of the problem is that “the current Title II, Part A program provides funding that can be used for an enormous array of activities to improve teacher qualifications and quality.” Most of the funding supports district-level activities (95 percent). Many of these activities are worthwhile, but funding is not specifically targeted to activities that are likely to yield a significant return on investment. In fact, districts use the bulk of their Title II funding to support professional development and class-size reduction, which both have questionable effects on student achievement when implemented on a large scale.
Currently, there is very little empirical evidence on the effectiveness of professional development. A recent review of 1,300 studies conducted by researchers at the Southwest Regional Educational Laboratory found only nine studies that were sufficiently rigorous to include in their analysis.
Class-size reduction, which receives another large chunk of Title II funds, is popular with teachers and parents. But its extremely high cost raises questions about whether there are more cost-effective ways to boost student achievement. And research shows that giving students a highly effective teacher will have a much greater impact on their achievement than reducing class size.
Until Title II can be overhauled to ensure that funds are applied in cost-effective ways that align with strategic goals, it would make sense to channel more funding to competitive grant programs that show greater promise in this sense.
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