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Down to the Wire on Teacher-Preparation Rulemaking

Negotiators seemed not much closer to reaching consensus on new federal teacher-preparation rules, after another day of discussions that continued to expose fractures among the panelists.

As with yesterday, the elephant in the room continues to be whether the U.S. Department of Education's proposed revamping of the teacher-preparation accountability provisions in Title II of the Higher Education Act should be tied to the TEACH grant program, which supports candidates who agree to teach in high needs schools and subjects. The Education Department has proposed allowing only those who score at the top category on a proposed four-tiered ratings system to be eligible to offer TEACH grants.

This has been a concerning idea to many in the higher education community. It would, after all, be a major financial-aid precedent if only certain institutions that reached some standard of quality were permitted to tap federal financial aid.

The issue of linkage never even surfaced at the negotiating table today. But don't mistake that to mean that the issue wasn't discussed. It was, but behind close doors by a caucus of negotiators.

(Under the negotiating protocol, only the negotiating sessions that involve all the panelists are public. When a member of the negotiating team calls a caucus or subcommittee, he or she can exclude the press and other experts if (s)he chooses to.)

Your excluded (and subsequently somewhat cranky) blogger, therefore, wasn't privy to these discussions. Fortunately, I did manage to track down draft language that emerged from this caucus. Under the proposal, states would define their own definition of "high quality" programs for the purpose of TEACH, separate from the Title II categories.

In what seemed like a compromise, though, institutions deemed "at risk" and "low performing" on the Title II reporting system would not be able to participate in TEACH.

The proposal would also give states five years to establish the validity and reliability of the criteria and categories of the rating system, in what seemed like a nod to the objections of many deans within the higher education community.

It's unclear whether the Education Department is going to like these ideas. We'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out.

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Retention and Placement Rates

Among other topics, negotiators spent much of the day fielding various definitions in the law, and debating whether to include teacher retention and placement rates in the measures of teacher preparation program quality.

This debate seemed to break largely down based on whether the negotiator was representing a traditional vs. an alternative route. For instance, programs like residencies guarantee placement and are likely to look good on a teacher-placement measure. On the other hand, traditional programs probably stand in some instances to do better on retention rates, especially over three years, than an alternative program that only requires a two-year teaching commitment.

When we ended, several panelists had already been tapped to write compromise language.

It's worth noting that at this point, I'm hearing a lot of behind-the-scenes grumbling that the Education Department is trying to run out the clock on negotiations, so as to avoid a consensus and thus be free to write its own rules.

Whether that's rumor or fact, here's where we are: The panel has come down to the wire, and there is only one half-day more of negotiating.

Photo: Blackboard scribble left by negotiators during a closed-door lunch session.
Photo Credit: Stephen Sawchuk/Education Week

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