Teacher Preparation

Teacher-Preparation Regs: Feds Seek Comment on How to Judge Online Programs

By Stephen Sawchuk — March 31, 2016 3 min read
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The U.S. Department of Education is inviting additional comment on its long-delayed teacher-preparation proposal—this time, on how to apply the regulations to online teacher-preparation programs.

Although the reopened comment period is limited only to this specific issue, it would seem to further delay the final regulations, which were due out last December. The notice inviting comment will appear in tomorrow’s Federal Register, and comments are due in 30 days.

This might seem like a pretty narrow thing to worry about, but as I reported some years back, online teacher education programs, both for- and non-profit, are among the largest in the country. These big providers include the University of Phoenix and Grand Canyon University, both based out of Arizona; National University, in California; and Walden University, in Minnesota. (See chart.)

The department’s proposed regulations were predicated on states making the determination of how the programs in their borders perform. But in online programs, teachers from all over the country (and sometimes the world) participate, leaving open a big question about how to hold them accountable under the new rules.

The department’s solution:

The Education Department proposes requiring every state to issue a rating to an online teacher-preparation program, regardless of where it’s headquartered, as long as that state issues 25 teaching certificates in a year to graduates of the program in question. If number of graduates falls below 25, the state can aggregate across multiple years or multiple content-area programs to make its determination.

In essence, this means that online programs will be held accountable in every state in which they have a certain number of new teachers. (For comparison’s sake, the original regulation doesn’t require states to track graduates from brick-and-mortar programs who go to teach out of state.)

What about those TEACH grant penalties?

In addition, distance education programs could not qualify for a TEACH grant if any combination of states were to give it two ratings of “at risk” or “low performing” in a three-year period. That means if an online program gets dinged in Maryland one year and West Virginia the next, too bad; any new enrollees could not be given a TEACH grant. (For brick-and-mortar programs, the same state must give the program two poor ratings.) TEACH grants subsidize training for teachers who agree to teach in shortage fields in high-needs schools for four years.

The teacher-preparation regulations were broadly unpopular in the field (there were more than 4,800 comments before the period closed). It’s likely that the online teacher-preparation lobby is not going to like the idea that multiple state determinations could trigger TEACH penalties.

Does this further delay the final regulations?:

Probably. The department is unlikely to issue the final rules until this wrinkle is smoothed out. Notably, the new regulations also state that any TEACH grant withholding would not occur until 2021-22, which is one year later than stated in the Nov 2014 proposed regulation—as good an acknowledgement as we’re likely to get about this delay.

Just why the base regulation has been on hold for so long remains something of a mystery, although the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act in December did create one problem. That law did away with the federal requirement, via the Education Department’s system of waivers from ESSA’s predecessor, for teacher evaluation—and the proposed regulation had multiple references to the waivers and teacher evaluation. Department officials are probably hard at work reconciling the regulation with ESSA.

Want a refresher of what the overall regulation would do? Here’s Education Week‘s handy-dandy-stick-it-on-your-cubicle-wall chart.

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