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White House: Draft Teacher-Prep Regs Out In Summer

The Obama Administration will release draft accountability rules for the nation's teacher-preparation programs this summer. Among other things, they would require states to improve their procedures for identifying strong and weak teacher-preparation programs, and would likely bar the worst from offering federal TEACH financial-aid grants.

"This is something that the president has a real sense of urgency about," said Cecilia Muñoz, White House director of the Domestic Policy Council, during a conference call with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "What happens in the classroom matters. It doesn't just matter, it's really the whole ballgame."

The plan is being billed as an executive action by President Obama to staff all classrooms with effective teachers. In reality, it's a revival of a long-delayed 2012 effort.

The background is complicated. Under the Higher Education Act, states have to report a host of different information on their teacher-preparation programs and identify "at risk" and "low performing" ones. Most haven't taken the requirement very seriously.

So, early in 2012, the Education Department attempted to put teeth in the law through a process known as "negotiated rulemaking." (Education Week covered the rulemaking extensively; you can find links to the coverage below.) It proposed requiring every state to use several specific indicators to grade programs, such as how graduates fared in boosting student achievement and whether they had good retention rates in schools. And it wanted to restrict the TEACH grants, which subsidize teacher-candidates who agree to teach in high-need schools, to only top-rated programs. But the effort fell apart in April 2012 after negotiators couldn't agree on specifics. When that happened, the Education Department got the green light to draft the rules on its own.

There had been nary a peep about the agency's progress until today's announcement, though Duncan, in an April 11 interview with Education Week's Michele McNeil, intimated that the teacher-preparation regulations were a priority.

Details Scarce

Details on what the agency will demand remain scarce; officials demurred when asked whether this summer's draft would mirror those circulated in 2012.

Duncan did, however, mention that factors like teacher-placement rates, retention rates, gauges of alumni satisfaction, and measures of student learning would likely be part of the mix.

That doesn't mean that the plan will be popular in the field, though. Higher education groups, who are particularly concerned about the financial-aid precedent set by these proposals, have banded together to influence the process.

Meanwhile, the White House's Office of Management and Budget still has yet to formally request the rules for review. (OMB must perform a cost-benefit analysis of any new rules before they can be published). After that, the rules go out for public comment—usually for 60 to 90 days—and only after that can a final rule be issued.

Still, the Education Department promises a final rule will be issued within a year.

"We go into this very humbly and look forward to getting lots of feedback from the public," Duncan said, but added that he doesn't have much patience for naysayers. There's been "such a lack of transparency, so much opaqueness [in teacher prep] I don't think anyone can or should defend the status quo. Anyone who thinks what we're doing is good enough, that to me is a real stretch."

Education Week's rulemaking coverage, in chronological order:

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