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Teacher-Prep Regulations: A Short Primer for Educators

By Maddie Fennell

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To be a profession, we need expertise.

Building that expertise should begin with strong college preparation and then continue throughout a career. But as educators we know that teacher preparation isn't what it needs to be. Too many new educators are either graduating with a degree they never use, or they quit a few years into the profession. They are unprepared for the challenges they face.

Last month the U.S. Department of Education finally released their Teacher Preparation Regulations. I will get a little wonkish here, but I want to boil down the key points that educators need to pay attention to.

Just as with the Every Student Succeeds Act, educators should take notice of these regulations because much of the real work and structure will fall to the states.  If we want to ensure that our new colleagues are actually prepared to work with us, we need to be involved in the accountability systems that are being built now in every state.

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The focus of the regulations is to provide transparency and feedback that will drive improvement in teacher preparation programs. The new regulations revamp institutional and state reporting that already exists, now drilling down to the program level.

Every state must designate their teacher preparation programs in two categories: at-risk and low performing.  But states can develop more categories—for instance having low performing, at risk, effective, and highly effective—or they can keep just those two. I guess one may just assume the rest are effective or at least NOT low performing/at-risk. I would like to see states develop categories that actually point out exemplars others could learn from.

To determine which category a program belongs in, a state must use at least the following four indicators:

1)  Employment: States will have to report if program graduates were ever hired and what their retention was 1, 2 and 3 years after graduation. In addition to general hiring and retention rates, States must also report these rates in high-need schools. This could be a great measuring tool for high school students and their parents to use as they make college choices.

2)  Program Characteristics: States must provide an assurance that programs maintain a high bar for exit.  A state can choose to have a high entry bar, but many argued during the open comment period that this may have unintended consequences; for example, that it disproportionately impacts prospective teachers of color.  As a classroom teacher, I've always believed it matters more where you end then where you began; in that vein, I believe a high bar for exit is much more important as long as the criteria are rigorous and uniformly applied. 

the focus of the regulations.jpg3)  Surveys: The state must develop and administer a survey to the employers (probably principals) and graduates of programs at the end of the first year of teaching.  The quality and quantity of the information is going to be dependent on which state you are in since, again, the survey development will fall to the states. This could be valuable information for personnel departments as they decide where to target potential employees. (Why should we recruit from X University when their graduates don't last past 3 years or we have to invest in significant remedial training?)

4)  Student Learning: States have to report on student learning; with the department's disastrous track record on this for waivers, this bears watching. There is tremendous leeway in how states can determine student learning; measures can be anything a state believes is connected and relevant to student outcomes. It will be important for teachers to be vigilant on this to make sure that student learning measures are chosen and weighed appropriately.

The consequences of these regulations will be both direct and indirect.  States will be required to provide technical assistance to those programs designated as at-risk or low performing.  Programs in those categories for two years will lose their ability to provide TEACH grants to students (students would still be able to receive Pell grants and other federal assistance; those who had already received TEACH grants wouldn't lose them or be penalized). 

Since states will be required to publicly report all this data, there will also be consequences when folks start using this information to make their decisions about college and hiring (I can see NCTQ building out that website already).

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It will be five years before we see consequences take hold.  The 2016-17 academic year is for planning; states may choose to use 2017-18 as a pilot year and full implementation begins in 2018-19. TEACH grant eligibility isn't on the line until 2021-22.

Bottom line: the impact of this is going to be dependent on state design so the effect will vary greatly state to state. If you want teacher preparation to change in your state, you need to be asking questions now and engaging in conversations with your state department of education. 

 Maddie Fennell, NBCT, has been an elementary teacher in the Omaha Public Schools for 27 years, teaching in 1st, 4th, and 6th grades and mentoring her peers as a literacy coach. She was honored as the Nebraska Teacher of the Year in 2007. This year, she is on special assignment to the National Education Association as a Teacher Fellow.

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