NAICU Washington Update

Teacher Preparation in the Spotlight

October 11, 2011

On September 30, Education Sector hosted a briefing for Education Secretary Arne Duncan to announce a new Obama administration proposal for education reforms that would directly affect teacher preparation programs at colleges.  A central goal of the effort, according to Duncan, is to have states evaluate and act on their teacher preparation programs in three ways:  rewarding those schools identified as "high-performing"; helping to improve those in the middle; and shutting down those programs determined to be under-performing.

Duncan noted that federal rules (Higher Education Act of 1965, Title II, Section 207)  already require states to evaluate programs.  However, he claimed, the fact that no state has shut down a teacher education program since the rules went into effect in 1998 shows that states aren't doing enough.  This would be "laughable if the results weren't so tragic for our nation's children," Duncan said.

To categorize schools, Duncan envisions states using a combination of data on graduates' job placement and retention rates; performance by graduates on improved teacher licensing exams; satisfaction surveys by program graduates and by principals of the institution's graduates teaching in their schools; and by linking the test scores of a teacher's K-12 students to the teacher preparation program the student's teacher attended.  Minority serving institutions would be given special support to improve, and to meet the goal of providing "more high quality teachers from diverse backgrounds," according to Duncan. 

The Secretary touted the "powerful bipartisan coalition" supporting his efforts - including the National Education Association; Teach for America; state superintendents and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).  However, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel's comment implied a level of wariness typical among some of the coalition members, saying that he is glad the conversation has moved beyond attacking teachers to "building the profession."

More vocal critics of the proposal, such as Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement that "at the same time that the validity of using standardized tests as the ultimate measure of performance is being widely questioned, the U. S. Department of Education appears to be putting its foot on the accelerator by calling for yet another use for tests."  She also said that "education policies should foster programs that provide all aspiring teachers the preparation they need to succeed in the classroom," instead of just rewarding a select group of achievers. (For more details, see the Inside Higher Ed article "New Path for Teacher Ed Reform")

Duncan has released this report at the point that Congress is struggling to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, with both House and Senate education committees having worked behind the scenes preparing to write legislation.  The Department of Education, however, seems most eager to get on with the process of updating the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. 

For Duncan, the most successful conclusion would be for Congress to adopt an approach that improves the selectivity of students going into teacher preparation, increases accountability for teacher preparation programs based on the success its graduates' K-12 students on mandated student achievement tests, and ramps up clinical practice in all programs - whether traditional or alternative.

In his Education Sector briefing, Duncan also talked about the importance of data systems in tracking academic progress of students and teachers, noting that such systems would provide outcomes information for teachers, students, schools, parents, preparation programs and the public.  He highlighted the Louisiana and Tennessee state longitudinal data systems as robust examples for other states to copy.

Implementation Process Could Raise Eyebrows

In implementing his education reform proposal, Duncan will soon post a notice in the Federal Register.  That notice will call for negotiated rulemaking sessions for Titles II and IV of the Higher Education - a move that will allow the Department of Education to open up current institutional and teacher education reporting requirements in Title II, and to change the TEACH Grants in Title IV. 

This would be a controversial move anytime, but especially on the heels of Duncan's recent effort to use Secretarial waiver authority in effectively amending the No Child Left law without congressional approval.  Critics are concerned that this new end-run attempt on teacher education reform could be a next step in an ongoing plan to revamp the federal role in public education through administrative fiat, rather than through the legislative process.

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