America’s economic future depends on the success of our public schools, and the success of our schools depends upon effective teachers and principals.
In the next Congress, both the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Higher Education Act will be up for reauthorization. We need to seize this opportunity to improve the chances for student success by building a truly collaborative system for educator preparation -- one that creates a positive school environment, allows educators to work together and connects higher education to early childhood and K-12 education.
Currently, these systems function in their own separate silos of educational policy and practice. While some innovative practices are being implemented in each arena, there is no systematic connection. Educational stakeholders -- parents, teachers, principals, superintendents and policy makers -- need to engage now on how best to establish an aligned system, especially for the preparation of new educators who will be teaching and leading in schools with the greatest needs.
Our legislation, the Educator Preparation Reform Act,  increases collaboration between high-need local educational agencies, clinical teacher preparation sites, and community stakeholder organizations, and, secondly, streamlines and strengthens the accountability for teacher preparation programs. In developing this legislation, we have had input from a broad coalition of stakeholders representing teachers, colleges and universities, principals, school boards, and community-based organizations. Moving forward, we will continue to seek input from the community and from our colleagues to strengthen the proposal and to ultimately enact legislation that will chart a clear path forward for preparing educators for success in our schools and classrooms.
The Educator Preparation Reform Act builds on the success of the Teacher Quality Partnership Program, which connects institutions of higher education with high-needs school districts and other partners to reform teacher education and help teacher preparation programs and public schools collectively and collaboratively share new ideas and best practices.
One of the toughest challenges facing high-need schools is retaining effective teachers and principals. According to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, almost half of teachers leave their job within five years -- creating a churn that correlates to poorer outcomes for students. One way to combat this high turnover rate is to improve educator preparation. According to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics, teachers with greater levels of preparation are more likely to remain in their jobs than those that did not go through a teacher preparation program.
The Educator Preparation Reform Act will help local schools and community organizations and institutions of higher learning partner together to provide yearlong teacher and principal residency programs -- pairing a high-need school district with an educator preparation program -- to ensure that new, well-qualified teachers and principals are ready to serve in high-need school districts.
The Educator Preparation Reform Act overhauls the cumbersome and opaque reporting requirements for teacher preparation programs with a focus on transparency and data that can inform program improvement. Under this bill, teacher preparation programs would report on key quality measures that address both program inputs and outcomes, such as grade point averages and test scores for teacher candidates admitted to the program, data on clinical preparation requirements, and program graduate’s impact on student learning, performance in the classroom, and retention in the field of teaching.
All programs -- whether traditional or alternative routes to certification -- must be accountable and report on the same measures.
We require states to identify at-risk and low performing programs and provide them with technical assistance and a timeline for improvement. States would be asked to close programs that do not improve.
The Educator Preparation Reform Act would also support assessments to measure teacher readiness for the classroom. States and teacher preparation programs that implement these teacher performance assessments would be able to report on the outcomes on these assessments rather than on the current teacher licensing exams.
Finally, the Educator Preparation Reform Act makes important changes to the TEACH Grant program to focus on students who have committed to pursuing teaching in programs that meet the quality standards for performance set by their state. Eligibility for grants would be restricted to the final two years of a teacher preparation program. In this way, we will reduce the number of TEACH Grant recipients who are required to pay back their grants as loans because after a few semesters they decide that teaching is not for them. Institutions that are identified as low-performing in their state will not be eligible to offer new TEACH Grants to their students.
Our focus on the educator is essential, now more than ever before.
Every day, in schools and classrooms across the country, hardworking teachers, principals, and support staff work to spark innovation and prepare our students to meet the challenges of tomorrow.
We can help them today, by passing the Educator Preparation Reform Act and ensuring that educators in the classroom are well-prepared to enter the profession and the best and brightest are ready to serve where they are needed the most.
Michael Honda is a Democratic U.S. representative from California, and Jack Reed, a Democrat, is the senior senator from Rhode Island.