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A Push from ED on Teacher Education Reform

As I report in this week's edition of Education Week, the U.S. Department of Education has put some markers in the FY 2012 budget request signaling where it wants to go on changes to university-based systems of teacher education.

In my story, I wrote about the proposed changes to the data collection on teacher colleges, part of the Higher Education Act. The administration would like to emphasize output-based measures like surveys of districts and the performance of newly minted teachers in the classroom.

And I reported on a proposed $185 million grant program, the Presidential Teaching Fellows, which would subsidize high-quality teacher-candidates in top-tier programs. States, working together, could establish a portable license for highly effective teachers. The idea is similar to this proposal and to another one that Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet has promoted to create a "presidential teacher corps."

The grant program is, of course, dependent on getting a congressional authorization as well as funding from appropriators.

Finally, there's a third piece to all this in the budget that I didn't have space to write about in this story: The administration has proposed funding the Hawkins Centers of Excellence Program, which was created in 2008 with the rewrite of the HEA, but never got funded or implemented.

Don't remember this program? You're not alone. Hundreds of programs exist on paper, but never get funding. But it comports fairly well with the administration's other priorities for teacher education.

Under the budget proposal, the administration proposes giving grants to minority-serving institutions that prepare teachers who partner with districts or a nonprofit organization. Among other things, it would prioritize for funding teacher preparation programs that:

• Raised their selectivity/entry or exit standards;
• Provided extensive training in "evidenced-based methods of reading instruction;"
• Required a year-long clinical student-teaching experience for candidates;
• Created a system for tracking program graduates; and
• Required at least a bachelor of arts or science, in addition to education coursework.

In the budget justifications, the administration notes that this program would help expand the pool of effective minority educators, who are underrepresented as K-12 teachers.

The proposed $40 million pales in comparison to the $185 million for the Presidential Teaching Fellows program, but all it needs to operate is for Congress to open its pocketbook—though, of course, that's no small hurdle these days.

When I spoke to the Education Department's Michael Dannenberg, whose portfolio includes teacher ed. issues, he highlighted all three levers at the administration's disposal used to craft these ideas.

"You have a group of tools being used here—regulatory, legislative, and budget," he said. "To date, the secretary's tool has been the bully pulpit. We're looking to use additional tools."

There's truth in that, when you consider that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has, on the one hand, admonished teacher ed.; and on the other hand, praised some of its ideas, like the report recently put out by a panel convened by a teacher education accreditation body.

There is no gain without pain in these uncertain times, and the budget includes casualties for teacher education in order to make room for these new proposals.

They include consolidating funding for the Teacher Quality Partnerships program, which helps groups of districts, nonprofits, and universities improve teacher training, and eliminating the TEACH grant program in favor of the fellows initiative. TEACH helps subsidize teacher training for candidates who promise to work in high-need schools, but the grant converts to a loan if candidates don't meet their commitments.

Readers, what do you make of all of these new proposals?

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