Higher Ed. Law Eyed as Teacher Training Platform
Projections of a national teacher shortage and a widespread push for higher standards for educators appear to be lending new urgency to teacher training legislation in Congress.
So far, three members of Congress, as well as the Clinton administration, have unveiled proposals to amend the Higher Education Act to authorize initiatives in teacher training, recruitment, and accountability.
"There is a huge demand to improve that initial period of teacher preparation," Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said at a recent press conference to announce his bill. The lawmaker spent a year holding forums with school officials in his state on how to best improve education and came away from the process focused on teacher preparation.
But, as always, funding could remain a stumbling block.
"The problem is with where we're going to get the money," said Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., who chairs the House Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education, Training, and Life-Long Learning.
The HEA was due for a congressional reauthorization this year. But Congress extended funding for programs in the HEA through fiscal 1998, which began Oct. 1, and is now likely to take up the reauthorization next year.
The law, last revised in 1992, authorizes federal teacher education and recruitment programs, as well as most financial-aid programs for college students. In the past, teacher training has taken a back seat to Pell Grant and student-loan programs.
Each of the proposed bills picks up on recommendations made last year by the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future, on topics from from teacher recruitment to accountability, said Linda Darling-Hammond, the commission's executive director. ("Teaching Focus Called the Key in Reform Push," Sept. 18, 1996.)
Looked at together, the various HEA proposals represent "probably the most comprehensive package of reforms aimed at teaching that have been around [in] the past 30 years," Ms. Darling-Hammond said.
Observers say the bill introduced last month by Sen. Frist could win congressional approval because it would offer the most streamlined approach for teacher training programs within the HEA.
"The time is right for a proposal like this to gain support," said Gordon M. Ambach, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, a Washington organization that represents state superintendents and commissioners of education.
According to the Department of Education, the HEA currently authorizes 20 teacher education and recruitment provisions, although only one--a $2.2 million minority-recruitment program--is funded.
Sen. Frist's bill proposes combining the teacher preparation programs and distributing their funding through block grants to states.
Under his proposed America's Teacher Education Improvement Act, states would divvy up the money for initiatives designed to recruit people to teach in poorly served urban and rural areas, programs targeted to helping nontraditional students become teachers, or efforts to form partnerships to improve teacher education.
The Frist bill, which would set the appropriation for teacher training at $250 million annually over four years, is supported by 19 higher education organizations, including the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and the American Council on Education, an umbrella group representing 1,500 higher education institutions and related regional and national associations.
Due to the "widespread recognition that we need more teachers and better-trained teachers than we've had in the past," Congress is more likely now to support teacher training and recruitment provisions in the HEA, said Terry Hartle, vice president of the Washington-based ACE.
In considering what they wanted to see in the HEA, the higher education groups decided to "think strategically" about what type of programs would be most likely to gain congressional support, said Penelope M. Earley, the senior director of the Washington-based AACTE.
"Congress is not comfortable funding programs when the administration determines the standards," Ms. Earley said, noting that, under Sen. Frist's proposal, federal funding would be linked directly to each state's education priorities.
That means that "what is done in New York would not be the same as what is done in Florida," Ms. Earley said. "That's fine because their needs are different."
The Clinton administration has its own outline for making Title V--the section of the HEA that deals with teacher training--more coherent and more likely to receive funding, said Terry Dozier, a special assistant to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley.
But instead of block grants, the administration's plan would provide competitive grants for colleges and universities with high-quality teacher education programs. Grantees would be expected to set up partnerships with other institutions and to recruit students willing to teach in hard-to-staff urban and rural schools.
The administration proposal, which President Clinton unveiled in July, would focus primarily on teacher preparation for schools in high-poverty areas and require the schools to participate in the design of teacher education and recruitment programs, Ms. Dozier said. ("Clinton Plan Called Step Toward Easing Teacher Shortages," Aug. 6, 1997.)
"If we can develop programs to prepare teachers well for our most challenging classrooms, we know they would work well anywhere," Ms. Dozier added.
Two other bills, proposed by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., also encourage stronger partnerships between teacher training programs and K-12 schools.
"The current method of student teaching has been criticized as too short and fragmented," said Sen. Reed, adding that, under his proposal, teacher training would be analogous to medical school, requiring students in undergraduate education programs to take part simultaneously in a four-year, hands-on training program with K-12 schools.