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Regulations Would Link Teacher-Prep Quality, Aid Eligibility

A set of draft federal regulations under discussion this week proposes requiring states to classify their teacher-preparation programs into four categories, from low- to high-performing, based in part on outcomes indicators such as surveys of graduates and school districts; teacher placement and retention rates; and student-achievement results.

The draft would also restrict states to permitting only those programs scoring at the highest level to offer federal TEACH grants, which subsidize training for candidates who agree to serve in high-needs fields.

Though still preliminary, the draft gives the clearest sense to date of how the U.S. Department of Education envisions refashioning the reporting and accountability requirements for teacher education housed in the Higher Education Act—one of the pieces of a comprehensive policy proposal for teacher education unveiled last fall.

The draft is a product of the negotiated-rulemaking process. Under this process, negotiators selected by the Education Department can alter the draft, but by the end of the rulemaking process—which continues through March—they must all agree on its format. If they don't, the department can issue its own rules. (See prior EdWeek coverage of this rulemaking here, here, and here.)

In essence, the draft would unite the TEACH grants with the federally required reporting under Title II of the Higher Education Act, two areas that are currently not joined by law.

Title II requires all states to issue report cards on teacher preparation consisting of dozens of indicators, including licensing-test scores, and to identify "at-risk" and "low-performing" programs using a set of state-defined criteria. Some states have never identified any of their teacher-preparation programs as such, while other states have permitted such institutions to offer TEACH grants, even though, by law, they are only supposed to go to "high-quality" programs.

The draft would require states to classify programs in one of four categories: "low-performing," "at-risk," "satisfactory," and "high-quality."

Their classification decision would be based on data generated from three new outcome indicators, in addition to the current state-chosen indicators. The outcome indicators include:

Student learning outcomes, such as growth in achievement as measured by state standardized tests; alternate measures like student-learning objectives; or results from teacher evaluations;
Customer satisfaction survey outcomes, based on surveys of graduating teachers and employers of those teachers; and
Employment outcomes, based on the teacher placement and retention rates.

It's worth noting that these requirements would, to some extent, reintroduce the concept of program rankings or classifications. Title II accountability requirements, first instituted in 1998, required rankings of institutions based on passing rates on licensing tests, but those rankings were dropped from the 2008 rewrite of the HEA.

Of particular interest, programs would need to be nationally accredited in order to receive the "high-quality" designation for the purpose of receiving a TEACH grant; only about 900 of the nation's approximately 1,400 teacher preparation programs are so accredited.

The regulations also say that if a state withdraws program approval from a "low-performing" program, then that program could no longer receive federal professional-development funding, enroll students receiving federal financial aid, and would have to disclose its status on its website. But few—if any—states have chosen to use Title II reporting to inform program-approval or closure decisions, a state function.

As for the state and institution "report cards" required under the law, draft changes to the template would eliminate a number of data points not required by statute, but expand the reporting to include the minimum and median GPA, SAT, and ACT scores of candidates, and the median GPA for program completers.

Watch this blog item for updates as reaction comes in this week from the negotiators.

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