College & Workforce Readiness

Administration Pushes Teacher-Prep Accountability

By Stephen Sawchuk — March 08, 2011 8 min read
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Federal officials plan to overhaul the reporting requirements for higher education-based teacher preparation in favor of leaner, outcome-based indicators of program quality, according to plans outlined in the president’s fiscal 2012 budget request.

To bolster the overhaul, the budget also proposes a $185 million new formula grant program, dubbed the Presidential Teaching Fellows, that would give money to states for scholarships to high-quality teacher-candidates—in exchange for the development of accountability systems that do a better job of distinguishing between exemplary and lackluster preparation programs and routes.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Education hope to work with Congress to shape legislation authorizing the fellows program, which has yet to be introduced.

See Also

To read about how states and colleges of education are still trying to meet federal requirements put in place three years ago, see “Colleges Play Catch-Up With HEA,” March 9, 2011.

“We’re looking for better input data and also better outcomes measures,” said Michael Dannenberg, a senior policy adviser and counsel in the office of the undersecretary, Martha Kanter, who oversees policy on postsecondary education. “I want to be clear, we’re not looking for more reporting and more regulation.”

Despite their quiet inclusion in the budget, the proposals represent the administration’s first major foray into policy shaping teacher education, a topic that has attracted attention in recent months. (“New Vigor Propelling Training,” Dec. 1, 2010.)

“We’ve been asking the administration, ‘What is your agenda for teacher quality and higher education?’ ” said Jane West, the vice president of government relations for the Washington-based American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, a membership organization. “And I think this is a response.”

New Directions

University-based teacher preparation has not received much policy attention under recent high-profile federal competitions. The Race to the Top competition put an emphasis on opening up alternative routes to certification, but it didn’t promote teacher colleges, which prepare a majority of the nation’s teachers.

Meanwhile, this is the second consecutive year that the Obama administration has proposed consolidating the federal Teacher Quality Partnerships program, the primary funding stream supporting teacher education, into a larger competitive grant program. (“Obama Proposes Teacher Results in Federal Law,” Feb. 24, 2010.)

States and institutions of higher education have been required to report on teacher preparation since the late 1990s under Title II of the Higher Education Act. The requirements were tweaked in the 2008 rewrite of the federal law.

The fiscal 2012 budget proposals focus on reducing burdens on education schools, as well as integrating K-12 student-achievement measures in teacher preparation policies, an area considered to be lacking in the current reporting system.

As outlined in the budget justifications, the Education Department plans to conduct a regulatory review of the Title II data collection. Federal officials estimate that there are some 440 data points each institution currently collects as part of the reporting—including such tidbits as whether teacher-candidates are fingerprinted or take personality tests as part of the admissions process.

“Right now, we ask too much of institutions of higher education that is not extremely useful, and separate from the list in the statute,” Mr. Dannenberg said.

Those requirements come on top of additional data burdens, including collections conducted by AACTE, regional and national accreditors, state bodies, and now a review being conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality and U.S. News & World Report. (“Teacher-Quality Group to Revamp Education School Review,” Feb. 23, 2011.)

Federal Requirements

1998 Amendments to the Higher Education Act of 1965
• Traditional teacher-preparation programs create report cards on enrollments in traditional teacher education programs and the passing rate of candidates on teacher-certification or -licensing tests.
• States create report cards ranking teacher-preparation programs based on the passing rates on those assessments, as well as those in state-approved alternative-certification programs. They also identify low-performing and “at risk” programs.

Higher Education Opportunity and Access Act of 2008
In addition to previous requirements, the law requires:
• Reporting on alternative-certification programs both inside and outside higher education programs.
• Preparation programs to report on the average scaled scores, as well as passing rates, on all licensing tests, broken out by the stage at which candidates take the tests.
• Preparation programs to report on admissions, the number of candidates by field, demographics of program participants, the number of faculty supervising clinical experiences, and programming on technology instruction and working with special populations.
• Preparation programs to set and report on goals for increasing the number of teachers prepared in shortage fields.

Fiscal 2012 Proposals
• Would eliminate some reporting requirements.
• Preparation programs would be expected to report on three outcome measures:

  • Achievement growth of students taught by program graduates;
  • Graduate job-placement and retention rates; and
  • Graduate and employer satisfaction

• Would end the TEACH grant program and replace it with the Presidential Teaching Fellows program.

SOURCE: Education Week

“The administrative burden of trying to prepare all that information is overwhelming,” said Joyce E. Many, the executive associate dean of the school of education at Georgia State University, in Atlanta. “That’s the hardest part, the huge amount of paperwork required to cut this information in so many different ways for so many different needs.”

In addition, federal officials want to establish three new measures: how much graduates help students learn; where they are placed and how long they stay in schools; and whether employers—school districts—are satisfied with the quality of graduates they get from those institutions.

Gauging Quality

Broadly speaking, such proposals reflect a current push in federal education policymaking to focus on student outcomes. Movement in the K-12 field to incorporate such information has met with considerable controversy, especially over the question of whether such information can be used validly and reliably to judge teachers.

Title II of the HEA does not specifically require states or institutions to report on the proposed measures. But it does give the Education Department authority to promulgate regulations to ensure the “reliability, validity, integrity, and accuracy” of the data collected.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has praised efforts by states such as Louisiana to identify and help improve programs whose graduates appear to do less to boost their students’ achievement scores. About a dozen states in all have promised to institute such systems as part of their winning Race to the Top bids.

States such as Tennessee have discovered that program quality can even vary within institutions. A Tennessee review of education programs based on such data, for instance, found that some programs that produced candidates whose students made above-average growth in mathematics didn’t have equally strong performance in other subjects.

Nevertheless, the systems have encountered controversy elsewhere. Last year, education school deans in Florida protested similar state reporting based on a preliminary model there, noting flaws like mismatched data, a failure to account for graduates of education schools with degrees other than teaching, and estimates based on only a year of achievement growth, which tends to make such estimates more volatile.

“We have to be meticulous in ensuring that the system we build to measure student growth ... is fair, accurate, comprehensive, and transparent,” said Lance Tomei, the director for assessment, accreditation, and data management at the University of Central Florida, in Orlando, a top supplier of teachers in the state.

Accountability Tradeoff

The proposed Presidential Teaching Fellows grant program, meanwhile, would come on the condition that states establish new accountability systems for programs that prepare teachers using the proposed outcome measures, among others.

The program would dole out formula grants to states in exchange for improving licensing and certification systems and establishing ways of identifying top-tier preparation programs. Then, the states would funnel dollars to the colleges to give scholarships to teacher-candidates of up to $10,000 to teach in high-needs schools.

The proposal also says that states could work together to create a portable license to recognize “master teachers” who are demonstrably effective in the classroom. And it would also require states to help improve struggling preparation programs and close those that didn’t improve.

Similar proposals have been offered by Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and by a group of teacher-quality scholars affiliated with the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

A stronger system of accountability would be a welcome change, say those who argue that the current accountability requirements in Title II have led to little change overall in teacher education.

Edward Crowe, a former Education Department official who helped implement the original Title II provisions, said that states and higher education institutions circumvented many of those requirements.

“The problem is that you confront the political constituency of a university with a weak program, and that’s a tough issue for governors and state legislatures and state boards of education to deal with,” said Mr. Crowe, who now works as a consultant to the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. “They’d rather duck.”

Since 1998, states have labeled fewer than 40 programs as low performing under the provisions, which require states to set criteria and identify both those and “at risk"; programs. More than half the states have not identified a single program, while others have not shuttered programs that repeatedly landed on the list.

Reaction From the Field

Teacher-college representatives have reacted cautiously to the proposals.

“We’ve been saying we need more outcome measures, [but] I think there are some question marks around it,” Ms. West of AACTE said of the proposals. Among her concerns is whether the criteria for determining an effective program will be set by states or the federal government, and whether they will be equally applied to all programs.

In addition, the Presidential Teaching Fellows program is contingent on the elimination of the teach grant program, a teacher-preparation subsidy for high-needs subjects that AACTE championed.

But Ms. West was pleased that the budget justifications propose allowing states to use up to 20 percent of funds under the fellows program to support development of performance-based licensing tests. AACTE, along with the Council of Chief State School Officers and Stanford University, has been deeply involved in piloting such an exam, an endeavor now involving 21 states. Proponents say it will help determine when a teacher-candidate is ready for the classroom. (“State Group Piloting Teacher Prelicensing Exam,” Sept. 1, 2010.)

Georgia State’s Ms. Many said she supports the movement toward better measures of program quality. She said, though, that teacher colleges should participate in defining the measures.

“My strongest concern is whether people who understand nuances of programs are at the table to help build systems for value-added modeling to occur,” she said.

In remarks at AACTE’s annual conference, which took place late last month in San Diego, Mr. Dannenberg of the Education Department pledged that the administration would listen to feedback from the field as it crafts the proposals.

Details on how the proposals would operate in practice are still scarce.

For one, the Presidential Teaching Fellows program would need both a congressional authorization and a sizable appropriation—a significant challenge given this time of austere budgets.

Coverage of “deeper learning” that will prepare students with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in a rapidly changing world is supported in part by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, at
A version of this article appeared in the March 09, 2011 edition of Education Week as New Rules for Ed. Prep Are Mulled


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