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Day 2 of Teacher Ed. Rulemaking: Scope, Mismatch, Financial Aid

At Day Two of the U.S. Department of Education teacher-preparation negotiated-rulemaking session, negotiators dealt with a fresh host of issues, including the always-tricky area of scope: whether the Education Department risks overextending its authority in some of its areas.

As with our Day One coverage, I'll attempt here to give you a rundown of the key themes and points of tension. That way, when the proposed rules come out, we'll be able to try to connect the dots between the discussions and the language put out by the department and the negotiators.

If this is all too wonky and detailed for you, I've filed a somewhat broader story for Education Week, which should be up on the website soon.

Without further ado:

Legal scope:
Day Two's discussion dealt with the Title II requirements for states to set up assessment systems for identifying "at risk" and "low performing" teacher-preparation programs. Though the law lets states pick the criteria, the department wanted negotiators to consider whether there should be a set of minimum criteria or basic parameters for these assessments.

The agency got some pushback on this issue, with some suggesting that new prescriptions in this area could get dangerously close to overriding, or in any case interfering with states' programs-approval and -accreditation processes.

The Education Department can perhaps be forgiven for wanting some clarity here, though. There is no single, publicly available clearinghouse of state program-approval standards and processes. You have to go to every state to get this information.

Mismatch of federal/state systems: As alluded to above, it has never exactly been clear how the federal Title II system is supposed to coordinate with the state program-approval process.

All those Title II reporting requirements we talked about earlier in the week, after all, are not actually required by law to inform the state assessment or program-approval process. States can choose to use the Title II information for such purposes (and that was the congressional intent in setting up this reporting system), but they very rarely do.

They actually seem to operate in parallel rather than in tandem: Several of the negotiators representing teacher education programs, in fact, brought up instances where state officials advised programs to close for poor performance—but those programs never landed on the state's low-performing list.

Some negotiators said that the current Title II assessments are too blunt—a particular division or program may need to be shuttered, rather than an entire teacher college. (Teacher Beat factual aside: As I look at past HEA reports, it's clear that states can choose to look at the programmatic level, not just the institutional level, in making these designations.)

Assistance vs. accountability: Should the goal of the Title II assessment system be to help offer assistance to low-performing programs or serve as a trigger to shutter them? A negotiator from the District of Columbia school district, Scott Thompson, felt that the two goals aren't incompatible. Just as with teacher evaluations, he said, the systems should help most programs figure out where to do better and also determine which ones really need to have the plug pulled.

Financial aid: The Title II law says that a state can pull its approval if the program is deemed low-performing under the assessment system. (Again, this rarely happens.) Still, the law says that such a program would no longer be permitted to enroll students receiving financial aid.

Negotiators generally agreed that more details in this area are necessary, such as how to define an "enrolled student" and whether to protect students already enrolled in the program from being penalized.

Defining a "high quality" teacher-preparation program: This is the final issue on the table, which negotiators were dealing with this morning. (Other commitments, sadly, prevented me from being able to attend.)

Federal statute says that only "high quality" programs should be permitted to offer TEACH grants, but right now pretty much any institution that wants to offer this aid can do so. The problem is that "high quality" has never been defined by law, so negotiators discussed how this term should be coordinated with the Title II-required assessment system.

After this week, the negotiators won't reconvene until February. In the meantime, the Education Department is supposed to draft rules and send them to the negotiators, and that will serve as the basis of the next go-round of discussion.

With the diversity of opinions shared during the last two days, predicting what ED will put out is going to be tough.

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