Following a three-hour telephone call with negotiators during which consensus seemed frustratingly out of reach on new teacher preparation accountability rules, the U.S. Education Department declined to extend the rulemaking process any further, meaning it will craft the rules on its own.
The final wedge issue on the conference call ended up being a familiar one: student-achievement outcomes.
Several negotiators said they didn't feel that such measures as "value added" were ready to be used to judge program quality.
The breakdown in the process came as an abrupt about-face from last week, when negotiators seemed somewhat closer to an agreement.
But by the beginning of the conference call held this afternoon, the divisions among negotiators seemed to have grown more deep-set, with consensus far from imminent.
The Education Department's proposal would have required states to classify their teacher-preparation programs into four categories, using a mix of measures including student-achievement information. Only those in the top two categories would have qualified to offer TEACH grants for low-income students who commit to teaching in hard-to-staff schools.
The student-achievement piece has been a thorny one from day one. But during the second rulemaking session, the negotiators appeared to have reached a compromise on the matter.
Unexpectedly, the issue raised its head again today.
"Personally, I have not seen a research base to put [these measures] in," said Beverly Young, an assistant vice chancellor of academic affairs for the California State University system.
Other negotiators objected to using such measures in part to determine eligibility for TEACH grants.
"There's not enough research at this point in time to suggest that this has enough validity and reliability across the country or state by state, and yet we're trying to put it into ... regulations that will now deny students financial aid based on something that is yet to be proven as valid," said Joseph Pettibon, an associate vice president for academic services at Texas A&M University.
A variety of alternatives were offered. At one point, a caucus of negotiators pushed for a five-year pilot to test out the new student-outcomes criteria, but that didn't sit well with everyone.
"There's not much of a research base at all about how to effectively measure the impact of teacher preparation, and I don't know that waiting five years to figure that out is the right way to go," said the National Education Association's Segun Eubanks.
The Education Department suggested giving states a nonrenewable one-year waiver of the new reporting and accountability requirements. But other negotiators wanted such a waiver to be renewable.
There was some palpable frustration among negotiators that student achievement should be back on the table, especially since last week's disagreements had centered on a rather different issue: whether TEACH grants should be at all tied to the designation of teacher-preparation-program quality.
In the end, Education Department officials appeared to think that any further discussion would be futile. They were joined in that assessment by several panelists, mostly those who have been more bullish about student-outcomes data.
"To me, we have to have a resolution about what it would take for people to be comfortable accepting student-outcome measures as part of the [system], and if not, it's time to call it," said George Noell, a professor at Louisiana State University.
Hunter College (N.Y.) Dean David Steiner summed up:
"Simply based on the discussion today, I don't think a few hours [of additional negotiations] would do it and I don't think a few weeks would do it," he said. "Long-standing divisions have re-emerged, and I don't see a [likely] consensus on anything close to what the department has in mind."