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Odds Unclear for Duncan’s Teacher-Prep Reform Grant

By Stephen Sawchuk — November 28, 2012 3 min read
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U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan took yet another swipe at the nation’s teacher colleges in a speech today—and hinted at a Race to the Top-style competitive-grant program for helping to improve teacher preparation, colleague Michele McNeil reports over on the Politics K-12 blog.

This is always the kind of idea that gets headlines, even when cash is tight and details are all but absent. But that’s never stopped Washington’s chattering classes from speculating. So in that tradition, what options might the Education Department have if it’s serious about moving this forward?

Let’s take a look at some of the proposals floating around and try to gauge their odds for serving as the appropriate avenue:

RESPECT Program: The administration made this $5 billion proposal in the fiscal 2013 budget, and it was also outlined in the American Jobs Act, a piece of legislation that never got traction in Congress. With respect to teacher training, its main idea was to make colleges of education more selective about whom they accept into training programs. The hefty price tag coupled with still-vague aims makes this very unlikely to happen anytime soon. Odds: Not good

Hawkins Center for Excellence: This program, which the administration envisioned using to improve teacher preparation in minority-serving institutions, was authorized by Congress in 2008 but has never been funded. Given the climate of austerity and the Republican-controlled House, this is a long shot. Odds: Not good

TEACH Grants: The administration has proposed converting the $185 million mandatory-spending program, TEACH, which supports candidates going into shortage fields and subjects in exchange for a four-year teaching commitment, into the “Presidential Teaching Fellowship” program. Under that proposal, states would get grants to tie licensure to performance measures and to allow only high-quality institutions to offer the teaching scholarships. That change would require legislative action, and has not been favored by the higher ed. community. However, pending regulations from the Education Department are likely to tie TEACH grant eligibility to the accountability rules in the Higher Education Act, so the agency is pushing in this direction already. Odds: Middling

Teacher Quality Partnership Grants: This $43 million competitive program in the HEA supports partnerships of universities and districts to improve training, such as by establishing yearlong teacher residencies. Higher education would likely push back against an effort to tighten or overhaul this program through regulations, but that is probably within the agency’s purview. Caveat: Current funding is mostly tied up in continuation grants. Odds: Higher

Race to the Top: The department has put a new spin on several rounds of this $4.35 billion program. All of that money’s been awarded, and Congress is divided on whether to continue the program, with House Republicans in favor of elimination and Senate Democrats preserving it in budget bills. If, and it’s a big if, the program does get more money, it would be a good vehicle for a competitive teacher-prep program. Odds: Middling

ESEA Title II: The Title II-A program in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would be the perfect vehicle; it’s a large, $2.5 million state aid program with tons of flexibility. The problem: It’s currently allocated by formula. The Education Department has, however, floated the idea of making a quarter of the program into competitive grants, although only a very small fraction has been converted so far. That small fraction, at about $25 million known as the SEED grants, could be repurposed. Odds: Middling to higher

Teacher Incentive Fund: This performance-pay program is quite flexible since it’s never been authorized, though the language that created it in 2006 does refer to differentiated pay. It’s not impossible for the administration, which has overhauled this program several times, to include a teacher-preparation component in the next round. Odds: Higher

Looking over this, it appears that Education Department is unlikely to get an infusion of new cash for a competitive teacher-prep-reform program anytime soon. But it could probably cobble together other funding sources to support what would probably be a fairly small-scale initiative.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.