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Will Push to Improve Schools of Ed Continue Without Teacher-Prep Regs?

Chances are good that the federal teacher-preparation regulations will be scrapped. The effort to quash the regulations already passed in the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 240-181 on Tuesday. The fate of the rules now rests in the Senate's hands.

In the debate over the teacher-prep regulations on the House floor on Tuesday, Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., who is leading the effort to rescind the rules, argued that "[they] assume the federal government knows better than local education leaders when it comes to what makes an effective teacher." He indicated that teacher education should be addressed through the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, rather than by what he described as an overstepping of the federal government. Others have argued that the rules actually provide considerable flexibility to the states.

"It's not unexpected, it's not earth shattering, and it's not concerning," said Deans for Impact Executive Director Benjamin Riley of the possibility that the regulations disappear. "For some, it was like the sky was going to fall if these regulations were put into place," said Riley. "But really the regulations were just providing an impetus to get moving on improvements to teacher prep."

The teacher prep regulations were released this past October. They call for states to rate teacher-prep programs annually based on several criteria, such as the number of graduates who get jobs in high-needs schools, how long those graduates stay in the teaching profession, and their impact on student-learning outcomes. The goal was for teacher-prep programs to use what they learn from the ratings to improve their training.

Many states have signaled that they are going to continue to improve teacher training, said Riley. That work isn't going to stop just because the regulations disappear. And long before the regulations came out, Riley said, many states across the country were already moving in the direction of revamping teacher prep. "They weren't waiting for the feds to act. From where I sit, the ball has been rolling on this for a while, and the regulations memorialized or codified work that was already in place."

While the repeal of the regulations did not surprise Kate Walsh, the president of the advocacy group National Council for Teacher Quality, she did hope they wouldn't be scrapped altogether. "It's unfortunate that there was no attempt to scrutinize the regs to see where they added value and where they did not," she said.

Some will be happy to see the regulations go. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education has been rallying members to urge Congress to scrap the regulations. The two national unions representing teachers have also denounced the regulations.

One argument has been that compliance with the regulations would require states to build data-collection systems without the requisite federal funding. Some have questioned whether the data collected—say, on student achievement—would provide teacher ed programs with any useful information for improving quality.

"Let's say we actually come up with a good indicator that shows how students are progressing," said National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García last October, after the regulations were released. "Here's the thing: There is no research—none, it doesn't exist—that says these kids in this school in this situation, their report cards, their test scores, their growth, has anything to do with this school of education way over here, three or four levels away from them."

There is not a lot of research in this area, admitted Karen Syms Gallagher, the dean of the University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education. But she is wary of unregulated prep programs. "We should care about a new teacher's performance, and we ought to be held accountable for the teachers we prepare," she said, "and if no one tells teacher ed programs to report what's happening with their graduates, they won't do it."

Carole Basile, the dean of Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, agreed that without regulations some education schools will find little incentive to track their graduates. But the good ones will find a way, she said. "There has to be a way to judge whether or not schools of ed are producing quality educators. A good teacher ed program is always looking out there to see how their graduates are doing."  

What we should really worry about, said Basile, are that some states with teacher shortages are making it easier to become a teacher. Riley of Deans for Impact agreed. He cited Utah as one state that has turned the process of becoming a teacher into "just passing a simple test."

"Utah is about to run a massive experiment on many of its children with teachers without serious preparation or rigorous training before they've entered the field," Riley said. "That's far more worrisome than a lack of federal regulation."

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