NAICU Washington Update

Round Two of Teacher Neg Reg

March 13, 2012

The first meeting of the Department of Education rulemaking panel on teacher education in January was largely characterized by negotiators holding their cards.  In February's second session, though, deliberations got much more serious as the "neg reg" negotiators began to address issues with potentially major implications.  Much is at stake for colleges with teacher education programs, and for classroom teachers as the final rules could define how states will be required to evaluate their performance.

Central to the second round of conversations was how to both evaluate and label the quality of teacher preparation programs.  In general, negotiators fell into two camps:  the "education reformers" and the "institutional reps." 

The reformers hope to implement a federal assessment system measuring the quality of teacher education programs through the students taught by graduates of those programs.  Metrics would include the students' performance on standardized tests, employer satisfaction surveys, and graduate employment rates.  This approach is already being used to assess teacher quality in a number of states and in D.C, and is stirring up controversy. The reformers now want to use the same approach to judge the quality of the teacher education program that prepared the teacher - effectively saying that student learning outcomes are the only meaningful indicator of quality.

Alternatively, the institutional representatives argue that evaluating quality involves subjective and objective measures beyond just student learning measures.  While not opposed to using student learning outcome data where it exists, they have pointed out that these data are in their infancy - in terms of states and schools being able to produce, much less analyze such outcomes.

The justification for the new regulatory framework, appears in a line in the law for the TEACH grant program.  The law reads that such a grant must only go to students enrolled in a "high quality teacher preparation program."  The Department is using this wording to justify developing a regulatory framework that could change the way states evaluate all college teacher preparation programs.   

Over the two and a half days of negotiations, compromise language emerged that incorporates both student learning outcomes and professional standards.  To be considered "high quality" in TEACH, a college's graduates would have to be deemed "effective or exceptional" on student learning outcomes, employment outcomes, and teacher and employer surveys.  Beyond that, though, the college's program must either have specialized professional accreditation, or be recognized by the state as a program that provides quality and depth of clinical preparation, content and pedagogical knowledge, and rigorous entrance and exit candidate qualifications.

This compromise effectively sets up federal standards that states and colleges must follow in assessing college teacher preparation programs - and those federal standards include specific student outcomes assessments.  The issue of how appropriate such a federal role might be has been raised by a number of panel members in both this and the January sessions, but has not yet been resolved.

The panel will reconvene in April, with much unfinished business on its agenda.  There are still roughly 20 definitions to discuss, as well as a number of other big issues.  These include the consequences of a program being deemed "low-performing," and how to address data collection problems in small programs.  Possibly the most critical question is whether Title IV student aid will be removed from any teacher preparation program in which students of its graduates don't perform at a certain level on K-12 standardized tests.  This concern grows out of the possibility that the proposed TEACH grant definitions may be walked over to all teacher preparation programs by applying them to the federal report cards all schools of education must submit to states.

NAICU continues to work closely with the independent college representatives at the neg-reg table, as well as our higher education association colleagues, in monitoring the direction of these discussions.  All colleges with teacher education programs also should be watching these negotiations closely. 

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