Teaching Profession

Teacher Ed. Riled Over Federal Plan

By Julie Blair — August 04, 1999 5 min read
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The U.S. Department of Education’s shot at defining high-quality teacher-preparation programs has left many in the higher education community steaming.

So upset are some, they are circulating a letter, intended for Congress, in which they complain about what they see as foot-dragging and flaws in some decisions the department has made along the way.

The uproar stems from the National Center for Education Statistics’ attempts to implement a federal law adopted last fall. The NCES, an arm of the Education Department, drafted a list of data on teacher assessments, certification, and licensure to be compiled by states and higher education institutions. The statistics are to be placed in two types of report cards.

The first, to be completed by the state, is supposed to include a ranking of college and university teacher-preparation programs according to the percentages of prospective educators who pass state exams. The second report card is expected to be drawn up by every institution with a teacher-preparation program and outline individual programs. The goal is to have both report cards ready for annual review by Congress and the public beginning next April.

Representatives of both states and colleges are going after the Education Department, however. Those critics contend that the data the department hopes to collect won’t be comprehensive enough to judge teacher programs accurately.

Moreover, many college officials say that because the NCES missed its June 7 deadline to complete the regulations, their schools won’t have enough time to compile the information before the April 2000 deadline, which would result in steep financial penalties for the institutions. States must submit their report cards by October 2000.

The congressional mandate to make states and higher education more accountable for the quality of teacher programs came after years of complaints that teacher colleges have been unwilling to make the changes necessary to turn out competent educators. The regulations will affect the approximately 1,300 colleges and universities with teacher-preparation programs that receive federal aid.

“The regulations, as they are likely to be interpreted, will provide a misleading picture of the competence of the teaching force in states and ... of graduates of institutions,” said Frank B. Murray, the president of the recently formed Teacher Education Accreditation Council and a member of a committee that collaborated to better define the law.

‘A Simplistic View’

That committee, made up of state and federal officials and education policy experts, acted as a sounding board for the NCES in accordance with the Higher Education Act reauthorization last fall that contained the data-reporting mandate. While the task seemed easy at first, members soon realized the complexity of their project, said Sam W. Swofford, the executive director for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and a member of the panel.

Congress had “a simplistic view of credentialing,” Mr. Swofford said. “There is no simplistic approach to teacher preparation. There is individualization within the states.”

For example, the point at which states administer their teacher assessments differs, he said. While some states give the tests to college freshmen entering teacher-preparation programs, others wait until students near graduation to administer a test. Under the NCES proposal, students’ results on the exams would be weighed equally regardless of the point in their college careers when they were tested.

Moreover, in an effort to simplify the data-collection process, the NCES will require states to report the assessment passing rates only for the graduates who take jobs in the state in which they completed college.

“A lot of colleges draw students from more than one state,” said Jon W. Fuller, a senior fellow at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, who worked on the committee to help define the regulations. “Those students return to their home state to pursue teaching careers. At Washington University in St. Louis, which has a significant teaching program, fewer than 10 percent seek certification in Missouri,” he said.

Despite the complaints, the system was widely supported by state, college, and university officials in national focus groups, according to Terry Dozier, the special adviser on teaching to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley.

“The NCES has been very, very careful in defining things as clearly and accurately as possible and in terms of how we’re reporting it,” Ms. Dozier said last week.

The department allows and even encourages states and institutions to give their assessment scores and other matters context in each individual report card, she added.

Tracking teachers who earn a degree in one state and work in another “would be a nightmare,” Ms. Dozier said. Institutions can track graduates for themselves, she said, but the department won’t make such a demand.

Federal Meddling?

Many state policymakers complain that intervention by the federal government on teacher-preparation issues is altogether meddlesome.

“It is increasingly more difficult to look at teacher education apart from the entire K-12 system,” said Michael B. Allen, a policy analyst at the Denver-based Education Commission of the States. “You have to put teacher preparation in context.”

College officials also maintain it would be a hardship to compile the requisite information by the prescribed deadline of next April. According to the law, the secretary of education has the authority to levy a maximum fine of $25,000 on any school that does not report the information in a timely manner. There are no penalties for states.

Colleges and universities may have been able to make the deadline had the NCES requirements been in place by June, the mandated deadline, said Diane C. Hampton, a legislative analyst for the American Council on Education, a Washington-based umbrella group for higher education, and a member of the consulting committee. It may now be at least three months before schools know precisely what they need to compile.

Flexibility, however, has been built into the law, said Dan Lara, a Republican spokesman for the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

“We are aware of the concerns that colleges and universities have with penalties and deadlines,” Mr. Lara said. The secretary “is not bound to levy a flat $25,000 fee.”

The regulations were printed in the Federal Register last week, Ms. Dozier said. The public will have 60 days to comment. The White House Office of Management and Budget will then have 30 days to make changes.

A version of this article appeared in the August 04, 1999 edition of Education Week as Teacher Ed. Riled Over Federal Plan

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