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Higher Education Groups Oppose Teacher-Training Bill

A slew of organizations representing colleges and universities have lined up to oppose a recently introduced federal teacher- and principal-training bill, urging the the chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee not to support the proposal.

The bill, introduced in late June, would authorize grants to states to begin teacher and principal "academies" run by nonprofits, with or without participation of higher education. The academies could offer either degrees or a certificate of completion roughly equivalent to a master's degree, and would not be subject to a state's teacher-preparation regulatory apparatus.

The idea is similar to changes in New York state's approach to teacher education.

In a letter to Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the American Council on Education, and other groups argue that the bill would duplicate other federal programs such as the Teacher Quality Partnership grants, and lower academic standards for preparation.

The groups' major concern is the idea that a certificate would equal a master's degree, "while not obligating the academies to meet the same requirements as traditional higher education providers," the letter says. "This bill discourages states from leveling the playing field for all providers of educator preparation."

They contend the bill would "devalue the M.A. degree," and they object that such programs would be excused from credit-hour requirements and the hiring of academic faculty with advanced degrees.

The proposal is clearly a more threatening proposition for these groups than today's alternative routes, most of which require some coursework at teacher colleges or offer only a teaching certificate, not an M.A. or its equivalent.

One has to wonder if this kind of pushback was inevitable. We've seen a few training programs of late that have sought to distance themselves from higher education altogether, as was the case with New York City's Teacher U program, now the Relay School of Education.

There is a decided lack of solid evidence about what kinds of teacher preparation seem to be the most effective. This is a real concern for those inside traditional education programs: AACTE's president recently called on M.A. programs to improve their ability to show they're effective.

There's a subtext here that also seems worthy of mention. An ongoing debate continues to rage within the educator preparation field about whether schools of education should focus on practical training, clearly the focus of this federal bill; on the production of theorists and scholars, as the author of a recent EdWeek Commentary recently argued; or on some marriage of the two.

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