NAICU Washington Update

Teacher Ed Reform: Can They Do That?

January 25, 2012

The first session of the rulemaking panel on teacher preparation programs under the Higher Education Act took place in at the U. S. Department of Education offices last week.  Negotiators questioned whether, in fact, the Department had the authority to dictate states' oversight of their teacher education programs.

Well before the first session, the administration had made clear its intent to change teacher preparation program accountability, and to apply its K-12 education reform agenda to higher education.  

Back in October, the Department had announced the session to write regulations on institutional and state report card standards; states' criteria for assessing the programs; defining what constitutes a "high quality teacher preparation program" and "high quality professional development program," and other matters related to teacher education.  Still earlier, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said at a September Education Sector meeting that his goal was 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.

Elements of this backstory reemerged in the course of last week's negotiating session.

Once beyond the formalities of the first day, the Department began walking participants through the list of ten issues it had identified as related to the broad areas of discussion.  Of particular interest was Issue 6, the Department's goal to define a "high quality teacher preparation program."

By the middle of the negotiating session, a key federalism issue had begun to emerge:  participants questioned whether the Department in fact has the authority to define a "high quality teacher preparation program," or to further regulate states' assessment standards for these programs.  Also of concern to the negotiators was whether any definitions developed in teacher preparation sessions would apply to other legislation in the future.  (See related Washington Update article ESEA/NCLB reauthorization)

Generally, negotiators representing institutions of higher education and state agencies were concerned with federal over-reach, while those representing think tanks and non-IHE teacher preparation programs were eager to spell out criteria defining a high quality program.

Private non-profit institutions are represented on the negotiating committee by David Prasse, dean of the school of education at Loyola University Chicago (negotiator) and Mary Kay Delaney, head of the education department at Meredith College in Raleigh (alternate). Both participated in last week's session.

By the end of the Friday session, much impassioned commentary had been offered, but few specific changes to language had been proposed.  To bridge the gap between brainstorming and wordsmithing, Jim Cibulka, president of NCATE/CAEP volunteered to collect negotiators' specific changes to the state report cards and proposals for defining "high quality teacher preparation program," then summarize and submit the responses to the Department representative. Incorporating the committee members' input, the Department will craft draft regulatory language on all ten issues and distribute it to them before the next session, February 27-29.

Related News

In a related development, House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) introduced two bills on improving teacher quality and accountability last week.  And on January 23, in anticipation of the State of the Union address, the committee issued a statement calling the administration's position a "backdoor approach to education reform."

Needless to say, the discussion of education reform and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education will continue in Congress this session.  Also needless to say, that discussion will not be bipartisan.