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Bipartisan Bill Seeks to Remake Teacher Training Programs

Teacher training programs would be held accountable for producing educators who demonstrate the ability to boost student achievement before they even graduate, under a bill introduced today by a powerful, bipartisan handful of senators.

The bill, called the "Growing Excellent Achievement Training Academies for Teachers and Principals Act" was intoduced today by Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

UPDATE: Sens. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Mary Landrieu, D-La., are also original co-sponsors of the bill.

Participation in the program would be optional for states. Those that choose to join would designate academies for teacher and principal preparation. The academies would have to use a rigorous admissions process and a major emphasis on clinical, hands-on experience. And, importantly, prospective teachers couldn't graduate from these programs unless they demonstrated that they could actually boost student achievement.

States that choose to participate in the program would have to designate state "authorizers," who would approve and oversee the academies. Programs that failed to produce effective teachers would lose their authorization. In exchange for their participation in the program, academies would be exempt from regulations that the bills' sponsors consider "burdensome" and "unrelated to student achievement."

This wouldn't just be for university-based programs. States could allow alternative-route programs, such as Teach for America and The New Teacher Project, to apply to be academies.

President Barack Obama included a proposal to revamp teacher training in his fiscal year 2012 budget request, which also requires teacher preparation programs to track their graduates' success in the classroom.

The measure is designed to be included in the pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, but could also pass as a stand-alone bill.

A bit about the sponsors and why they matter: Alexander, who has long had an interest in teacher quality issues, is a former Secretary of Education (under President George H.W. Bush) and a key negotiator in the discussing over the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Bennet is a former Denver schools chief and is considered the Obama administration's Senate soulmate when it comes to K-12 policy. And Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., heads up the Senate subcommittee that oversees education. Kirk and Landrieu are moderates with an interest in K-12 issues. So this is a pretty powerful group.

More background here. And check out a letter of support for the bill here.

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