$1.5 Billion Wasted in One Year Alone

Is it possible to waste $1.5 billion in one year?  If you work in public education, apparently it is.  In fact, if you work in public education you can waste $1.5 billion in one year, and then demand more money the next year because the $1.5 billion wasn’t enough.  And yes, billion, with a B.

Where was this money wasted?  On professional development for teachers.

The Institute of Educational Sciences is a division of the US Department of Education.  Their job is to determine if the programs and practices our public schools use actually accomplish anything.  Several years ago the IES set out to study whether the professional development teachers receive actually (a) improves teacher knowledge of the subject, and (b) increases student knowledge of the same subject.  Their second year results have just been released (see here).

Each year school divisions across the country spend more than $1.5 billion just in federal funds for professional development for their teachers.  Add in the cost of hiring substitute teachers for lost class time while teachers attend professional development as well as the cost of delivering those programs, costs which are paid for at the state or district level, and you’ve got a whole lot of billions being spent to teach teachers.  When we’re taking about several billion taxpayer dollars a year, one would hope that the classes increased both teacher and student knowledge.

One might hope that, but one is a complete idiot.

The results of the IES’ two year study into the effectiveness of teacher professional development have been released. Their research shows that there is NO increase in teacher or student knowledge as a result of teacher professional development.  Specifically, the study concluded that, ” At the end of the second year of implementation, the PD program(s),

  1. Did not have a statistically significant impact on teacher knowledge. There were no significant impacts on teachers’ total score on a specially constructed teacher knowledge test (effect size = 0.05, p-value = 0.79) or on either of the test’s two subscores. On average, 75.7 percent of the teachers in the treatment group correctly answered test items that were of average difficulty for the test instrument, compared with 74.7 percent of the teachers in the control group.
  2. Did not have a statistically significant impact on average student achievement in rational numbers. There were no significant impacts on students’ total score on a customized rational numbers test (effect size = –0.01, p-value = 0.94) or on either of the test’s two subscores.”

As our budget is facing an $32.1 million unexpected expense to cover the increased cost of teacher retirement benefits, maybe we ought to look to our PD budget for some offsetting reductions, especially as it appears that the PD we’re paying for is useless.


7 Responses to “$1.5 Billion Wasted in One Year Alone”

  1. ed Says:

    How much was waisted on Math Investigations? The only way to succeed was sufficient PD they said. Boy was that ever blowing smoke.
    Now MI is not even submitted to the state, results are worse and teachers are almost as confused as the kids.
    How about we teach teachers to teach the basics then they can get creative on top of that.

    • KimS Says:

      What’s interesting is that much of the PD we have now is program specific – not Math or Language Arts but Math Investigations or Making Meaning specific. So the teachers haven’t really developed greater knowledge of the content they have to teach or higher level content so that they understand the objectives in covering certain topics.

      One of the key areas our kids, and teachers, struggle with is fractions. Not visualizing them but adding, subtracting, simplifying, multiplying and dividing fractions. So we’ve developed tricks we teach our kids that help them pass the SOL but don’t really provide them with the deep understanding of those operations that they need to succeed. We do stuff like limit the fractions they have to add or subtract to “friendly” fractions – like 1/2 + 1/4 or 1/3 – 1/6. We convince ourselves that as long as the kids get how to do it and can do it with “friendly” fractions, then they’ll be fine because we have calculators and computers to do the really hard stuff. That’s the VA DOE’s position and has been the NCTM’s for decades.

      The problem is that this doesn’t cut it. Not even close.

  2. Rick Says:

    I am a school assistant principal, and I would say that the BEST professional development is when administrators and teacher leaders deliver it to staff based on the specific needs of the school/community. Not only do teachers usually find this worthwhile and applicable, but it’s free!

    • KimS Says:

      Rick, there is no such thing as free. If the PD is during the instructional day, then we’re paying for substitute teachers to cover our teachers classes. That’s roughly $100 a day for each sub. We also have to cover mileage to get out teachers from their base schools to where ever the PD is held. If the PD is delivered by central office’s PD staff, then we’re paying for it in their salaries and benefits. And that’s for PD that’s provided internally. For external PD the costs are even higher.

  3. Rick Says:

    You misunderstood my post. My point is that in schools with strong leadership, professional development can be run by the experts already working in the building, after school, on teacher workdays, etc. No need to pay subs, and the professional development at the school is often more applicable to the school mission/vision and can take time to develop in the context of specific school and community needs. We don’t need to ship teachers out of the building.

    I am at the secondary level, so I can’t speak to what elementary does in terms of that- but we have plenty of content and instructional experts working in our building to do it…for free.

  4. Rick Says:

    Actually, I just re-read my original post and can see how it could have been misinterpreted. I am advocating that as part of their 5 year plan, each individual school has a clear professional development plan at the building level. Making the cost of sending folks out of buildings unnecessary. There are some great people working at the central office level who are knowledgeable on PD, and they can take more of a consultant role for many schools- but let the schools be empowered to pull of the plan that makes sense for them. Also, through PACs, the community can be involved in what they believe teachers need.


    […] Of course, our government reflects our broken character. It begins with the problem of indifferent performance, $1.5 Billion Wasted in One Year Alone. […]

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