Grading Teacher Prep

Obama administration's proposed regulation would cut off TEACH Grant eligibility to poorly performing programs at colleges and universities.

November 26, 2014
Arne Duncan
Education Secretary Duncan

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration on Wednesday unveiled its controversial regulation that would link some federal funding for teacher preparation programs, in part, to the rate at which their graduates get jobs and how well they perform at the schools where they are hired.

The proposal is aimed at bolstering the quality of American teacher education programs by prodding states to hold the programs more accountable for how well their graduates teach. It also calls for states to collect and publish more robust information about teacher preparation programs with an emphasis on outcomes.

“Teachers too often arrive unprepared to for the realities of the classroom,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters Tuesday.

“States haven’t taken this responsibility as seriously as they need to,” Duncan said. He noted that over the past 12 years, 34 states had never identified a teacher preparation program as being low-performing.

The regulations would eventually overhaul the way the Education Department doles out roughly $100 million each year in TEACH Grants to aspiring educators who agree to teach at high-need schools after graduation. In the 2014 fiscal year, nearly 34,000 students participated in the program, which provides a maximum grant of $4,000 each year.

Under the proposal, states would be required to evaluate teacher preparation programs based on a combination of factors, including job placement rates and alumni satisfaction surveys. The states would also have to judge programs based on how well graduates perform in their first three years of teaching as measured by “student learning outcomes,” which may include their scores on standardized tests.

Based on those state ratings, the Education Department would award TEACH Grants only to students attending programs deemed “effective” or higher for at least two of the previous three years.

Although states would have to start collecting and publishing some of the new metrics over the next few years, the earliest that low-performing programs would lose access to TEACH Grants is 2020, according to Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell. The timeline is aimed at allowing time for states to change their standards, he said.

The Obama administration announced earlier this year that it planned to move ahead with the controversial regulation after negotiations over the rule broke down in 2012. A major sticking point of the negotiations was the extent to which teacher evaluations based, in part on student test scores, would be used in judging teacher preparation programs.  

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, on Tuesday criticized the proposal's use of "high-stakes testing" and said it would cut off resources to under-served school districts.

"Teacher preparation programs that send graduates to teach in high-need schools, where research shows the test scores are likely to be lower and the teacher turnover higher, will receive lower ratings and could lose funding," she said in a statement.

Deborah Koolbeck, director of government relations at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, said the group remained concerned that the proposal would be a significant burden on institutions and states, which would need to change the way they collect data on teacher preparation programs, including tracking students across state lines.

“This is federal overreach,” she said.

The group also objects to using employment retention rates as a measure of program quality, she said, noting that a teacher’s desire to leave a school may reflect on problems at the school or other life decisions completely unrelated to his or her preparation.

Proponents of the plan, meanwhile, have said that the regulation is needed both to improve the quality of teacher education and to hold institutions more accountable.  

Governor Bill Haslam, Republican of Tennessee, who joined Duncan on a press call announcing the regulations, said he backed the proposal, describing it as a natural evolution from the type of performance-based funding of higher education that he has championed.

“It’s a very logical step to begin doing the same thing with our teacher preparation programs,” he said. “The effort to link effectiveness and particularly to measure things based on outcomes, I think, is 100 percent the right approach.”

The Education Trust, a nonprofit organization that advocates for low-income students, said in a statement that it was pleased that the proposal would cut off federal funding for “the worst of the worst” programs.

“Right now, even the lowest performing programs are able to award TEACH Grants, federal dollars for teacher candidates who commit to teaching in high-need schools,” the group said. “The proposed rules would end this harmful practice.”

The Education Department will over the next two months solicit public comments on its draft proposal, which it plans to finalize by next September. 



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