It has become increasingly popular to say that individual teachers are the single most important factor affecting student achievement. This is hastily followed by pointing out the need to weed out “the ineffectives.” Now this rallying cry is being used by educational consulting firms that position themselves as “partners in reform” to sell remedial, one-size-fits-all programs for professional development (PD). These canned PD programs contribute to a vicious cycle in which teachers appear to be failing and in perpetual need of more remediation.
One example is from Tennessee, which has a multimillion-dollar contract with one of these firms—Battelle for Kids (BFK), a “national, not-for-profit organization that provides strategic counsel and innovative solutions for today’s educational improvement challenges.” BFK has contracts in a dozen states and several countries, so BFK’s contract with Tennessee is an example of a much larger—and growing—problem with canned professional development.
As we warn against BFK’s “solutions,” we suggest that now is the time to rethink teacher PD. Systems of inequity in K-12 schools do not start and end with the school day. They are sustained by approaches that position teachers as failing, deficient, and in need of remediation, instead of as willing and capable of collaborating, investigating, and problem-solving. If students deserve a liberating pedagogy that empowers them to think independently and creatively, so do teachers.
Tennessee was a first-round winner in the Race to the Top (RTTT) competition. In Tennessee, and in most “winning” states, the tight timeline and large-scale changes required by RTTT (e.g., longitudinal data systems, revised teacher evaluation and support, and “turning around low-performing schools”) are beyond the capacity of existing state departments of education and require outside contracts to even begin. This has created a bonanza for educational consultants and service contractors. BFK’s contract with Tennessee alone reached into the tens of millions of dollars for the four-year RTTT period.