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Senate Votes to Block Obama Teacher-Preparation Rules

The Senate voted 59 to 40 on Wednesday to overturn regulations governing teacher-preparation programs that were approved by the Obama administration late last year. 

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., introduced the measure blocking the rules late last week. Senate Joint Resolution 26 had nine other Republican co-sponors, including Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate education committee. The House also voted last month to block the rules, approving a resolution introduced by Kentucky Republican Rep. Brett Guthrie, and President Donald Trump is widely expected to back the move. 

"This regulation actually makes the assumption that bureaucrats in Washington are competent to micromanage teacher-training programs in America. That's what this regulation ultimately does, and it's absurd," Sasse said on the Senate floor before the vote.

However, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the education committee, said the rules would ensure that prospective teachers have more and better information about teacher-training programs. She also said the rules would protect teacher preparation from the as-yet unknown approach that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos would take. (Murray led the opposition to DeVos in the Senate before DeVos was confirmed.)

"It helps to improve teacher-preparation program accountability," Murray said on the floor about the rules.

The Education Department finalized the rules after a lengthy process, and changed how colleges and universities must judge the effectiveness of their programs that prepare teachers for classrooms. Among other things, these rules would require programs to include data on how many of their graduates get jobs in high-needs schools, how long their graduates stay in the teaching profession, and their impact on student-learning outcomes. 

Although the rules gave teacher-prep programs some flexibility on how to judge student learning, they got criticism, and not just from congressional Republicans. Last October, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García, for example, lambasted the idea that one could draw a straight line between a graduate school of education and a student's learning outcomes. 

Last month when speaking on the House floor, Guthrie argued that lawmakers should wait until they address the Higher Education Act to make changes to teacher-preparation regulations.

Republicans are also seeking to overturn accountability rules for the Every Student Succeeds Act that were also finalized in 2016 by Obama's Education Department. That measure is sponsored by Alexander. A vote on that measure is expected soon. The House voted to overturn the ESSA accountability rules, through a measure originally introduced by Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind.


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