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Advocates to Congress: Fund a Competitive Teacher-Quality Program

A high-powered group of advocacy organizations hopes to see more of the $2.5 billion currently spent by the Education Department to improve K-12 teaching reserved for a competition instead of doled out by formula.

The groups today sent a letter up to Capitol Hill urging the chairmen and ranking members of the powerful Senate Appropriations committee, and its subcommittee overseeing education, to support an Obama administration proposal to reserve 25 percent of the Improving Teacher Quality State Grants, otherwise known as Title II-A program, for a competition.

Title II, a formula grant that reaches every state, has thus far had only a very small portion (1.5 percent) turned into a competitive grant, which currently funds programs like Teach For America and the National Writing Project that had lost their federal earmarks.

The new program envisions a much larger host of activities, including a competition to boost the preparation of new STEM teachers; the expansion of university- and district-based routes to teaching; and the creation of accountability systems for teacher preparation, and certification regimes based on performance.

The program would seem to be somewhat inspired by (though less aggressive than) the GREAT Act Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado introduced last year, which also put a focus on teacher training. And as you may recall, the U.S. Department of Education is already writing regulations that will likely demand more performance information of schools of education. (The agency is unencumbered in doing so, since negotiations with the field on the shape of these regs collapsed several months ago).

That said, this proposal could face a tough uphill climb from appropriators. The push to competitive grants has, in general, not gone over well with teachers' unions, and even those in Congress have seemed a little doubtful. Why? Think of it this way: Right now, almost every district gets funds through this program. They'll all stand to have their share of dedicated funding reduced if this switch is made. That's quite a hard sell for congressmen charged with bringing the bacon home.

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