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Democrats Introduce Bill to Overhaul Teacher Training

Democratic Representative Mike Honda (D-Calif.) and Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.) have introduced identical bills that would reauthorize and make major changes to federal laws governing teacher preparation, including the reporting requirements, accountability provisions, and TEACH grant scholarship program.

Unveiled today, the legislation has already won an endorsement by American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. Unlike the GREAT Act—the other major federal teacher-preparation proposal floating around—the new bill appears to work mostly within the heavily higher-education dominated teacher-preparation marketplace. (The GREAT Act would encourage the development of non-higher-education-based programs, in addition to those in colleges and universities.)

Teacher-preparation policy is a matter of hot debate at the moment. The U.S. Department of Education is poised to release regulations on it shortly, following a negotiated-rulemaking process that ended in stalemate. Although it's hard to tell what inspired the introduction of the Honda-Reed proposal, it envisions a somewhat different system than what the Education Department has put forward.

Here's a rundown of some of the features in the legislation.

Residency Programs

First, the bill would expand the Higher Education Act's authorization of federally funded teacher "residency" programs to include principal-residency programs as well. The idea is roughly the same. The new program would give aspiring teachers, principals, and other educators a year-long apprenticeship to a master teacher or principal, with stipends.

Residencies have received a lot of attention lately. What we know about them at this point: They show promise, though they're not necessarily easy to implement, are potentially costly, and are still being studied.

Teacher-Preparation Reporting and Accountability
On the HEA's accountability provisions for programs that prepare teachers, the bill would ask states and programs to report "outcome data," including academic performance of students taught by the graduate of a teacher-preparation program; retention of graduates over 3 years; and other indicators, such as results from teacher evaluations.

Two things of note stand out here. First, programs aren't actually required to report this information; they only have to do it if the data is available.

Second, there's a loophole of sorts for institutions and programs that use a teacher performance assessment, a kind of exam that includes the taping and scoring of a teacher candidate's actual lesson. The bill says that such programs could submit pass rates on that test, rather than reporting on graduates' performance with K-12 students.

The use of student-growth measures was a big sticking point during the rulemaking negotiations earlier this year, as were states' and programs' capacity to collect and generate this information. AACTE and a number of other higher-education lobby groups clearly prefer a teacher-performance assessment approach to measuring outcomes to a value-added, test-score-based measure. AACTE has been a partner on the edTPA, which was piloted earlier this year; those results are currently being studied.

(The application of value-added to teacher preparation has been the subject of several studies, which have come to different conclusions. Most of the research on performance assessments predates the edTPA.)

The new legislation would also expand the sources of information on student learning to include formative assessments, performance-based assessments, student work, parental feedback, and "assessments of affective engagement and self-efficacy."

Connection to ESEA
The bill would put a marker in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act's own Title II program. The new language would require states to use their cut of ESEA Title II funds to create a public input process for setting the criteria identifying low-performing programs. (Right now, states get to do it on their own.) And it would let the U.S. Department of Education withhold states' ESEA Title II administrative funds for failing to meet these requirements.

TEACH Grants
The bill would not permit these grants, which support students who commit to teach in high-needs subjects in low-income schools for four years, to go to low-performing or at-risk programs. (Fewer than 1 percent of programs are so designated.)

In addition to the AACTE, the bill has been endorsed by the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the Alliance for Excellent Education, and the National School Boards Association, among others.

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