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Momentum Builds for Teacher Education Overhaul

By Stephen Sawchuk — September 30, 2011 3 min read

Momentum appears to be gathering behind a U.S. Department of Education plan to hold teacher education programs accountable for the achievement of students taught by their graduates.

At an event hosted here Friday by the think tank Education Sector, a diverse group of stakeholders, including Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the National Education Association, and Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach For America, spoke in favor of the initiative, which was first outlined in the Obama administration’s fiscal 2012 budget request. (“New Rules for Ed. Prep Are Mulled,” March 9, 2011.)

“It’s a really important piece to change the system and to build this profession,” said Mr. Van Roekel. “We agree no student should have a teacher who is not well prepared. We agree every candidate must meet rigorous standards. We have to combine meaningful input with meaningful output [data].”

The NEA has generally been wary of value-added test score data. Mr. Van Roekel said that its use in general continues to give him pause, but it shows promise for being used in the aggregate to help teacher preparation programs improve.

Through a negotiated rulemaking process, the Education Department wants to streamline and rewrite the reporting requirements contained in Title II of the Higher Education Act. Colleges of education participating in student financial aid currently must report information on candidates’ pass rates on licensure exams and identify low-performing programs.

Among other steps, the Education Department would require education schools to report on three new measures: how much their graduates help students learn; whether teacher-candidates are placed in high-needs subjects and areas; and whether school administrators are satisfied with the quality of program graduates.

Louisiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee already link teacher education graduates to student records, while 11 states and the District of Columbia have committed to similar initiatives through the federal Race to the Top program.

The department also proposed a $185 million Presidential Teaching Fellows program that would provide grants to states in exchange for identifying top-tier preparation programs. Then, the states would funnel money to colleges and alternative route programs to give teacher-candidates scholarships of up to $10,000 to teach in high-needs schools.

The new plan would replace the TEACH grants, a program that also subsidizes teacher training. Federal officials have said TEACH has not sufficiently kept an eye on quality: Two-thirds of programs deemed lower-performing under the HEA rules offer the grants.

And the administration proposed funding, for the first time, a program created in 2008 to improve teacher education in minority-serving institutions.

“The current system that prepares our nations’ teachers offers no guarantee of quality for anyone,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “For decades teacher preparation programs have had virtually no feedback loop” on how candidates perform so that they can revise their training regimes.

A variety of teacher education officials, such as David A. Ritchey, the executive director of the Association of Teacher Educators, and James G. Cibulka, the president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, also submitted statements of support for the department’s regulatory overhaul.

At the Sept. 30 event, Sharon P. Robinson, the president of the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, said: “I’m really glad the department is finally putting a focus on teacher education.”

Ms. Robinson praised the data collection portion of the plan and support for institutions serving minority candidates. But she felt the Presidential Teaching Fellows program needed changes.

“We can perfect that as we work with the Congress” to authorize the program, she said.

The federal action comes during a period of increasing policy attention to teacher education.

A version of this article appeared in the October 05, 2011 edition of Education Week

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