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Congress Talks About Teacher Prep

May 18, 2007

Last year alone, Congress appropriated $2.89 billion through the No Child Left Behind Act and $59.9 million through the Higher Education Act to fund teacher quality and preparation initiatives nationwide. At a Congressional subcommittee hearing Thursday, elected representatives and witnesses discussed strategies for getting the most out of that spending.

The reauthorization of the two acts “presents a unique opportunity to improve these laws so that they operate in a more integrated fashion,” Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D.-Tex.), chair of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning and Competitiveness said at the hearing.

“In years past, there has been much discussion and scrutiny of the caliber of teacher education programs at institutions of higher education. Teacher preparation programs haven criticized for providing prospective teachers with inadequate time to learn subject matter; for teaching a superficial curriculum; and for being unduly fragmented,” said Rep. Ric Keller (R.-Florida), the ranking member on the subcommittee.

“As we work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act this year, Congress will examine the most effective use of federal funding for teacher training, whether it is teacher education programs at colleges and universities or alternative routes for teacher certification.”

Witnesses at Thursday’s hearing put forward a variety of recommendations Among them:

  • Daniel Fallon, the director of the program in higher education at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, offered recommendations including providing incentives to states and local school districts to construct comprehensive systems compiling school data, and establishing post-baccalaureate mentoring programs in which education schools maintain real or virtual connections with young graduates throughout their first few years of teaching. The latter strategy seemed to trigger some interest among subcommittee members. Rep. Timothy H. Bishop (D.-New York) asked Fallon whether he thought federal funding to help establish these post-baccalaureate mentoring programs at less wealthy education schools would represent a good investment, to which Fallon readily answered in the affirmative. Yet, while recognizing the need to help less wealthy institutions launch such programs, Rep. John F. Tierney (D.-Mass.), wondered aloud why public monies should go to finance such efforts at well-endowed education schools with high tuitions when producing good teachers is “their charge, is their job.”
  • Sharon P. Robinson, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, offered a host of recommendations to incorporate in the two acts, among them investments in a new fellowship program that would provide service scholarships for teaching in high-need fields and high-need schools, investments in partnerships among schools of education, schools of arts and sciences and K-12 schools, and support for the development of teacher performance assessments. In her written testimony, Robinson describes a number of state assessments that measure “whether new teachers can actually teach” before they become teachers. “A modest investment” on the part of the federal government could enable the continued development of these teacher performance assessments, Robinson said – adding that the TEACH Act recently reintroduced by Rep. George Miller (D.-Calif.) calls for just such an investment. Like Fallon, Robinson also advocated for a targeted investment in the development of data systems and a need for "state-of-the-art" mentoring programs.
  • Focusing, not surprisingly, on alternative certification, Emily Feistritzer, president of the National Center for Alternative Certification and National Center for Education Information, recommended shifting the focus on teacher preparation from “institutions of higher education exclusively to a wide variety of providers of recruitment and preparation programs,” and providing incentives for states and school districts to expand alternative routes in areas with shortages of highly-qualified teachers. Rep. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.) questioned Feistritzer about variations in the quality of the various alternative routes programs and the teachers they produce, to which she responded with another of her recommendations: To encourage research about “What makes for truly effective teachers and how do they come by those qualities?”

On a related note, George A. Scott, director of education, workforce and income security issues at the United States Government Accountability Office, described a need to further study the ways in which the Higher Education Act and No Child Left Behind Act as currently written might complement one another. “Not much is known,” Scott said, “about how well, if at all, these two laws are aligned.”

 

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