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ARRA District Spending

Wisest Choice? Professional Development...

September/October 2009

For many experts, the wisest way to spend your ARRA dollars is on professional development. There are many solid reasons to spend ARRA funds on PD, but perhaps the biggest can be summed up in two words: funding cliff. Eventually, the ARRA money will end, but with educator training, your district will have something concrete to show for it: better teachers. Some districts, however, are spending the money on what they see as more immediate needs, including teacher retention.

Bruce Hunter, the associate executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, believes this is a shortsighted view. Already, he has seen some states spend their stimulus money in ways that they will not be able to sustain. “They spent on reducing student-teacher ratios or paying some teachers better,” he says. “Hiring people you know you’re going to have to lay off, no matter how successful they are, doesn’t seem like a wise use of the money.”

But simply spending ARRA funds on professional development isn’t enough. “Anything that the money is used for must be sustainable, and that also applies to professional development,” says Ann Cunningham-Morris, the professional-development director for the nonprofit educational leadership organization ASCD. “It can’t just be, ‘Did the teachers like it? Did they learn something?’”

Administrators need to make sure that the professional development is working, and ask important questions throughout the process. You have to ensure that it made a difference in teacher effectiveness or affected student learning, says Cunningham-Morris. “And, even more importantly, what evidence do you have that organizational practice and policies have changed to support [teacher] learning?” In short, you can’t just send teachers off to conferences and hope for the best; you have to follow up and measure the results.

“The traditional way that most districts do professional development is not sustainable or long-lasting, unless they change the way they do [it],” says Cunningham-Morris. “You can’t think of professional development as [just] workshops or courses or classes.” If you bring in an outside expert to instruct your teachers, it’s your responsibility to measure the results, and make sure your teachers become experts themselves.

 

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