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Group Urges Focus on Teacher-Prep Outputs in Federal Policy

When it rewrites the federal policies governing teacher preparation, Congress should require the states to include outcomes-based measures of program quality, concludes a recent policy brief from the New American Foundation.

The recommendations come just a day before the Senate holds a hearing on teacher preparation.

The Higher Education Act's Title II currently requires all colleges preparing teachers to submit "report cards" on teacher preparation and states to designate programs as "at risk" or "low performing." (The historical evolution of these requirements is rocket-scientist-level complicated; check out the sidebar embedded in this 2011 EdWeek story for the Cliffs' Notes version.)

There's a general sense that, with the exception of the information generated on teacher-licensing tests, the data currently generated from the HEA aren't particularly helpful. The federal program designations, for instance, don't have any consequences unless a state also withdraws its own approval of the program—an entirely separate process. 

"Regrettably, the most important lesson we have learned from these data may be that we have not collected the right data," authors Melissa Tooley and Laura Bornfreund write.

The authors put forth their vision of a more useful data collection and accountability system. It is clearly based on the ideas generated during a failed 2012 attempt by the U.S. Department of Education to write new federal teacher-training rules with the field. Among other things, the New America Foundation brief says colleges should: 

  • Report on graduates' performance using surveys and other outcome data, for both teacher- and principal-preparation programs;
  • Be required to break down performance data by program, not just by the institution; 
  • By 2019-20, develop a system for rating teacher- and principal-program quality in at least three categories; 
  • Disallow low-rated programs from offering TEACH grants;
  • By 2022-23, require states to withdraw approval from continuously low-rated programs; and
  • Be prohibited from subgranting federal teacher-training dollars to low-performing programs.

States should also be allowed to tap the 2.5 percent of their state teacher quality grants, which are authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, to set up the rating systems, the brief states. 

Finally, the authors envision a revamped competitive-grant program for teacher prep that would be based largely on program performance. 

Many of these ideas are deeply controversial in teacher preparation; the issue of withholding TEACH grants was one of the factors that scotched the 2012 rulemaking attempt, for instance.

Complicating Congress' job, a number of other efforts are also waiting in the wings. The Education Department's version of the teacher-prep rules has been inexplicably delayed for nearly two years. The voluntary national accreditation body for teacher preparation recently approved standards that include a number of similar ideas. And the Council of Chief State School Officers has made teacher preparation a priority through the issuance of a report and the beginning of a grant program to improve state policies

This is a busy, contested area of federal policy, so watch tomorrow to see what Congress makes of some of these ideas.

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