Congressional Republicans have taken one of their first steps toward revamping the main federal higher education law, with the unveiling of a proposal aimed at holding teachers’ colleges to tougher standards for turning out qualified instructors.
A bill dubbed the Ready to Teach Act of 2003 would set stricter requirements for states and teacher-preparation programs in their reporting of passing rates on certification tests, according to a summary released by its supporters in recent weeks.
The bill, HR 2211, sponsored by Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., also would encourage states receiving federal grants to create more flexible routes into teaching.
The legislation has the backing of GOP leaders on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, as they oversee Congress’ reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965. The proposal is intended to more closely align teacher- certification programs with the federal requirements included in the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001, which established deadlines for schools to hire “highly qualified” teachers in core academic subjects.
“The Congress and the Bush administration have made accountability key for elementary, middle, and high schools,” Mr. Gingrey said in a statement. “We must have similar accountability for the colleges of education that are graduating the teachers of tomorrow.”
In a report released last year, Secretary of Education Rod Paige pronounced the nation’s system for certifying teachers “broken"—undone by state standards that the agency said were both too lax academically, and saddled with unnecessarily burdensome licensing requirements.
Concerns About Reporting
In recent months, congressional lawmakers have reiterated those charges, voicing worries about high failure rates on state teacher-certification exams—and about whether schools were reporting scores accurately.
Supporters of the proposed “Ready to Teach” legislation say it would bring about changes by altering the requirements under which states receive federal grants for teacher training and recruitment. The bill ties that flow of federal money—which takes the form of state grants, partnership grants, and teacher-recruitment grants under Title II of the Higher Education Act—to more rigorous state oversight of teacher programs.
The bill was introduced a few days after the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held May 20 hearings on improving the quality of teacher training. Alexa Marrero, a GOP spokeswoman for the committee, said Republicans were likely to introduce several bills over the coming months on reauthorization of the higher education law, focused on affordability, student access, and other issues. Public hearings would continue over that time, she said.
The proposal would encourage states seeking some Title II grants to choose among several options for improving performance at schools and colleges of education and for attracting people to teaching. Those options include, among other possible steps, promoting innovative programs such as “charter colleges of education” and considering merit-based incentives and bonus pay for teachers or principals in high- poverty or rural schools.
The bill also would tie teacher-recruitment grants to states’ showing how they would use such money to recruit minority candidates for the profession, and would direct the secretary of education to give priority to applicants that sought to accomplished that goal.
In addition, Rep. Gingrey’s bill would rework the current process under which states and colleges must submit data to the federal government on the quality of their teacher preparation by requiring the reporting of passing scores on certification tests for all students who had finished two semesters of study.
That new requirement would bring more uniformity in how states and colleges report scores, supporters of the bill contend, and allow federal officials to more accurately judge the performance of teachers’ colleges.
Moreover, the bill would require states and institutions to offer far more detailed comparisons of the passing rates of different education schools and colleges.
Arthur E. Wise, the president of the Washington-based National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, said he was generally supportive of the bill’s goal of providing more flexibility in teacher certification. At the May 20 congressional hearings, he argued that lawmakers should allow accreditation by his institution to serve as a substitute for some Title II reporting requirements.
But Mr. Wise said he doubted that the revamped, two-semester reporting mechanism in the Gingrey bill would give lawmakers valuable intelligence on whether teacher colleges were really doing the job.
“I don’t think it will add any useful information,” Mr. Wise said.