Should Individual Teachers Control All Training Dollars?

From the National Governor's Association last year:

While little is known about the impact professional development has on student achievement, the amount spent annually on professional development is estimated at $9 billion.

Let's see. 3 million schoolteachers. $3,000 per year per teacher. And often, we know that this stuff does NOT work through careful study.

Since Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in early 2009, states have used stimulus funds to increase the amount of professional development for teachers.

Hmm. So it's higher than $9 billion.

However, most teachers do not believe the professional development they complete is helpful or relevant to their practice in the classroom. They find that it does not meet their individual needs. Nor does it include critical follow-up or the school leadership support needed to implement the strategies covered in professional development sessions.

So let's zoom out for a sec. Most traditional schools require teachers to sit through all kinds of training. The data says it doesn't help. Teachers say it doesn't help.

Let's blow it up.

What if we handed every teacher a $3,000 voucher each year? Give teachers full control. Eliminate every single required existing PD program. Let a marketplace spring up in its place. Wouldn't that really give each teacher "a voice" in decision making? (And a well-deserved one).

No seat time requirement. If a teacher wants training, she finds it. If not, she doesn't, just rips up the voucher, or part of it.

A school leader, of course, could still fire someone who is weak and not improving. So there remains incentive to improve. We're just eliminating the incentive to keep your job by wasting your time with a stupid requirement.

What if learning about teaching was more like learning about music? That's quite a marketplace. There's the old lady giving you private piano lessons when you're just starting. There are advanced classes in technique for experts at Longy. There's a lot in between.

Whatever training is good - in the mind of the teacher - can grow or raise its price. Whatever is crappy in the mind of the teacher - disappears. If you have data to prove your training "works," then you can probably attract more teacher customers.

Seems like two natural constituencies. Those who favor choice in education policy. I.e., if you support parents getting the right to choose their school, surely you support the right of teachers to control/purchase their training. Second, many teachers would support it, too!

The losers are the centralized control people. They'd say the same thing they say to block parent choice: What if they make the wrong choice? What if teachers waste the money on frivolous training?

Of course some will. That's not the point. The point is all evidence suggests that right now LOTS of teachers waste their time through frivolous training.

Let's move towards a mix of teachers making good decisions and teachers making bad decisions about training. On average, that would dramatically raise the bar over what we have now.

Currently, teachers sometimes describe that they enroll in stupid, easy courses that accomplish nothing because they are required to sit through something. If their choice were to do nothing or to take a stupid, easy course, they would do nothing. Stupid, easy P.D. courses would dry up.

As for the raises tied to taking courses? Eliminate them on the generous side. I.e., if contract says salary is $60,000 or $62,000 if you accumulate 25 "professional development points" - just give everyone the whole $62,000 and eliminate the distinction.