NAICU Washington Update

Teacher Ed Negotiators Hit a Roadblock

April 09, 2012

Disagreements, simmering since negotiated rulemaking on teacher education began in January, led to a stalemate at the final scheduled session at the U. S. Department of Education last week. The uncertainty forced the Department to schedule an additional conference with the negotiators via webinar later this week.

The building tensions (see January 25 and March 13 Washington Update stories) grew out of the belief - on the part of many observers and participants - that the process proposed by the Department was designed to judge, rank, determine students' federal student aid eligibility, and even shut down teacher education programs primarily on the basis of "value-added" standardized tests scores of the children the programs' graduates teach.  What Department of Education players didn't predict, however, was that the negotiators would not allow the process to end.

This session started with a hefty agenda of unfinished business - most notably, the difficult conversations around the use of value-added models for student learning outcomes as an indicator of program quality, and the precedent-setting linkage between TEACH Grants (Title IV student aid) and federally-mandated, state-enforced program quality classifications.  Instead of getting to the hard part first, though, the Department had the group slog through definitions.

Meanwhile, a non-federal negotiator caucus met periodically to work on the inclusion of professional - as well as federal - standards in the state indicators of quality programs.  But rather than bringing the important caucus work to the table for discussion, the Department continued to work through the agenda, add new issues, and engage in sidebar conversations with negotiators.

As Department staff made comments throughout the final day, it became evident that Secretary Arne Duncan was directly involved in reviewing the draft regulatory framework being created.  It also became clear that he wanted TEACH Grants to go only to an elite group of teacher preparation programs, and that value-added models for measuring student learning outcomes should be a heavy indicator of program quality.  (The use of value-added measures is an established hallmark of Duncan's approach to elementary and secondary education reform.)

Finally, approaching high noon, the Department moved to the issue of defining a "high quality preparation program" for TEACH Grant eligibility.  At 11:40 a.m., with a scheduled noon end time on the third and final day of negotiations, Department staff handed out a counter-offer to the non-federal caucus proposals calling for supplementing the value-added approach with professional standards for teacher preparation programs.  The facilitator asked if the group could work through the counter-offer, and could offer tentative consensus "on faith" that the Department would incorporate their concerns in the final draft.

Following a 10-minute private caucus, non-federal negotiators came back to the table to respond.  The student representative, speaking for  the group, making impassioned remarks about the good work done by stakeholders at the table in moving toward consensus.  He noted that, while they may have differences of opinion, all were working toward the common goal of improving teacher preparation for the benefit of the nation's students.  On their behalf, he asked for a fourth meeting session with the Department. Many other negotiators then spoke in support of continuing to work on the remaining issues, and expressed concerns that the major issues had never been addressed.  The Department offered to hold a conference call the following week to determine if another session would be possible.

The united front the non-federal negotiators presented was especially astonishing given that they represent a broad array of players in teacher preparation - and had more often disagreed with each other than found common purpose.  Negotiators include self-proclaimed reformers; representatives of alternative route programs; accreditors; for-profit colleges; alternative providers, such as Teach for America; state representatives; and traditional college teacher preparation programs.  Many spoke eloquently of their desire to work together, how much they had learned from each other over the past several months, and how fully committed all the negotiators were to ensuring quality teacher education.

The forthcoming webinar will determine whether the Department will allow a fourth session in an attempt to reach consensus, or if they will simply move ahead with a notice of proposed rulemaking without further negotiation.

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