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Advocacy Group Proposes 'Ticket to Teach' Idea

A Washington-based political-action group proposed yesterday to use a bunch of federally funded teacher programs as the basis of a new competitive initiative to produce effective teachers.

Called "Ticket to Teach," the proposal by Democrats for Education Reform is part of a series of briefs on what the group calls "the new normal" for public education. The phrase riffs off U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's well-publicized speech last month at the American Enterprise Institute calling on districts to rethink how they're doing business in a time of fiscal austerity.

The idea of the proposal is to fund "consortia" of districts, higher education institutions, nonprofits, and community organizations to create a new, tailored initiative for preparing teachers. The funding would be used to support loan forgiveness, stipends, and scholarships for teacher-candidates—but only for candidates recruited from the top third of the nation's college students (similar to the idea put out by McKinsey & Co. in a recent report.)

The goal of this Race-to-the-Top-style initiative is to create preparation pathways that do a better job as service providers to local districts and that give new teachers higher salaries, more prestige, and more support in exchange for stronger accountability and a longer commitment to the profession, DFER Director of Federal Policy Charles Barone said in an interview.

For example, teachers prepared through the initiative would receive a $65,000 minimum starting salary, a yearlong "residency" before teaching, and more time for lesson planning, collaboration, and mentoring once placed. They'd get financial rewards as they prove they're effective in the classroom. But they'd have to agree to teach at least 3-5 years in the school in which they're placed.

In general, the idea is similar to the current Teacher Quality Partnership grant program, which funds partnerships of teacher colleges, nonprofits, and school districts to improve teacher preparation, but would be "more competitive" and with a more-specific set of requirements than the current programs, Barone said. For example, alternative preparers of teachers would need to be included in the consortia. The new pathways would need to include training in psychology, brain development, behavior management, data analysis, and special populations. And the consortia would have up-front agreements with district schools in which candidates would be placed.

The bulk of the funding, the group says in its proposal, should come by repurposing funding federal programs already on the books, including several loan-forgiveness initiatives for higher ed. in general; the TEACH grants, which subsidize teacher-candidates who commit to working in high-needs fields; the TQP program, funded through the Higher Education Act; and professional-development spending under Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

As usual, that could be a major challenge. Consider that much of ESEA Title II is caught up in things like class-size reduction and therefore not easy to move around, for instance.

"I think the odds of consolidating these programs are probably nil," Barone acknowledged. But, he added, there's still an opportunity to fund groups that manage to put together the pieces of these various initiatives in a comprehensive way. "Given budget pressures, people are going to look for better ways of spending funds they already have," he said.

I've sent the proposal off to groups that represent preparers of teachers for some reaction. While we wait for it, feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments section—after you've read the whole proposal, of course!

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