Teacher Preparation

Teacher-Prep Negotiators Divided Over Federal Rules

By Stephen Sawchuk — March 05, 2012 5 min read
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The tenor of discussions held here last week by negotiators rewriting federal rules on teacher preparation underscored deep-seated philosophical divisions within the field, including the thorny issue of how much responsibility schools of education should bear for producing effective teachers.

Though the panelists did reach compromises on several occasions, negotiators differed on the degree to which teacher-preparation programs should be rated on outcome measures; how aggressive the federal government should be in holding programs accountable for such results; and the ramifications of any new requirements on states with training programs of varying sizes and missions.

The negotiated rulemaking concerns the reporting and accountability requirements for teacher colleges, which are housed in Title II of the Higher Education Act, and the TEACH grants, a financial-aid program created under a budget-reconciliation bill five years ago. TEACH grants subsidize the tuition of teacher-candidates who commit to high-needs schools and fields.

‘Inputs’ and ‘Outputs’

The rulemaking is one part of the U.S. Department of Education’s blueprint for overhauling teacher training, which was formally unveiled last fall.

It was unclear by the end of this week’s sessions whether negotiators, who hail from such areas as public and private training programs, alternative routes, the financial-aid sector, and the classroom, would reach a final consensus on draft regulations. If they do not, the Education Department can issue its own set.

In meetings held Feb. 27-29, negotiators nominated by the field marked up a draft set of regulations put forth by the department. Under that proposal, states would be required to classify their teacher-preparation programs into four categories, from “low performing” to “exceptional.”

In addition to state-chosen indicators, such judgments would need to include outcomes indicators, such as surveys of graduates and school districts, teacher-placement rates, and student-achievement results based on state or local tests.

Over the course of the discussions, a cadre of negotiators led by Segun Eubanks, the National Education Association’s representative on the panel, successfully lobbied to add a fourth required performance indicator: training “inputs.”

States would need to factor in accreditation results or certify that programs adequately convey content and pedagogical knowledge, provide clinical training, and set exit criteria.

Such measures are necessary to get the full picture of program quality, Mr. Eubanks argued. Witout them, “you could in fact determine your teacher ed. program is failing without ever visiting an institution, without ever interviewing a graduate, simply by looking at these mathematical formulas. ... We’ve been down this road with teacher-preparation programs and even AYP,” he said, referencing the controversial adequate yearly progress school rating at the heart of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The negotiators also tentatively agreed that no program should earn an “effective” or “exceptional” rating if it could not satisfactorily prove that its graduates help students to learn.

Even then, the negotiators worried about how to require states to disseminate the results fairly for all programs. For example, Mary Kay Delaney, the head of the education department at Meredith College, in Raleigh, N.C., noted that small programs take several years to generate enough data to be plugged into “value added” test-score calculations. She urged negotiators to ensure that that factor wouldn’t prevent such programs from successfully demonstrating student-learning outcomes or from earning the top performance rating.

One key question remained unsettled: Just how good does a teacher-preparation program need to be before it should be permitted to tap federal financial aid for teacher-candidates?

TEACH Deadlock

By law, TEACH grants are only supposed to go to “high-quality” programs, a term never defined in law. But several panelists pushed back on an attempt by the Education Department to define only those programs scoring at the top level of each state’s performance system as high quality for the purpose of offering such grants.

When it comes to addressing the needs identified in the TEACH grants, “I’m not sure why ... only those that are the crème de la crème of teacher preparation get to qualify,” said David P. Prasse, the dean of Loyola University of Chicago’s school of education. “If you’re [deemed] sufficient, if you’re satisfactory, why would we eliminate those institutions from eligibility?”

Several negotiators pushed to allow programs scoring at the top two performance levels to offer the grant. But that raised red flags forothers, who argued that it mirrors the current accountability system, under which states have identified few programs—if any at all—as low-performing.

“You run a risk of perpetuating a fundamental problem,” said David M. Steiner, the dean of the Hunter College school of education, in New York City. “In my judgment, given the choice between ‘effective’ and ‘ineffective,’ a state will plunk a lot of institutions in the ‘effective category,’ and that’s it, end of story.”

The Education Department’s representative on the panel, Sophia McArdle, echoed Mr. Steiner’s concerns. But by the time the negotiating session had ended, the agency had not put forward an alternative suggestion.

Negotiators did not have time to discuss at length the state and institution “report cards” required under the law, on which each institution or program’s designations would be listed.

Draft changes put forth by the department, however, would eliminate a number of data points not required by statute, while expanding the reporting to include the minimum and median grade point averages of candidates; their minimum and median SAT and ACT scores; and the median GPA for program completers, among others.

Education Department officials will prepare another version of the draft regulations and report cards before the final negotiating session in April.

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A version of this article appeared in the March 08, 2012 edition of Education Week as Thorny Issues Hamper Teacher-Training Rules

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