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Missing, Messy Teacher-Prep Data Stumps Even Federal Watchdog

We may have a winner of the Black Hole Award for transparency: Teacher preparation. 

Even the federal government's watchdog arm seems a bit stumped by the absence of performance information on teaching programs. At least seven states aren't complying with a key federal reporting requirement for teacher colleges—and the U.S. Department of Education hasn't forced them to, the Government Accountability Office found in a newly released report.

Based on surveys and interviews with state officials, the GAO found:

  • Seven states ignored the Higher Education Act's requirement to identify "at risk" and "low performing" teacher programs, some of them blatantly: "They believed their other oversight procedures [were] sufficient to ensure quality" without having such a process in place, the GAO said.
  • Also at fault: The U.S. Department of Education didn't have a monitoring process in place to ensure that states met their responsibilities under the law.
  • 12 states told the GAO they could not provide information on which providers they approved, approved conditionally, or denied approval to; elsewhere, just two providers were shuttered in 2013-14.
  • The Education Department also hasn't tried to figure out what could be done to make the federal reporting more useful for states.
  • And, the agency hasn't made clear the limitations of the federal data, including inconsistencies among states in how they define terms like "program completers."

Like the GAO, Education Week reported on state oversight of teacher preparation in a package of stories that appeared last December, and ran up against similar challenges. One big problem was that a number of states couldn't or wouldn't give us information on which teacher colleges and/or programs they shuttered for performance reasons. Overall, we found that few states closed any of their programs.

Similar to the GAO, EdWeek also found that the oversight of alternative programs was particularly lackluster—usually, those programs were measured against a different set of criteria than traditional programs. 

The Education Department responded by saying it would work with the noncompliant states, and it also cited its controversial proposed regulations to strengthen the HEA requirements as a sign that it's committed to improvement. Still, it stands to reason that the complex rules could make enforcement even harder.

The entire report is worth a read; find it below, after the related stories.

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