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Three Problems That Retooling the Higher Education Act Could Help Solve

Kicking off this round of guest bloggers is Constance Lindsay, research associate at the Urban Institute. Constance previously served as a presidential management fellow at the U.S. Department of Education, and she was also responsible for implementing teacher evaluation and preparation legislation for DC Public Schools and the State of Delaware. She'll be talking about teacher diversity, teacher preparation, and school quality.

The teaching profession in the United States faces several challenges, and Congress will have a chance to address some of these challenges through the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). Later today, Senator Lamar Alexander is releasing his proposal for HEA. As policymakers consider the proposal, they should remember that the HEA can be a driver of change for K-12 education.

Title II of the Higher Education Act encompasses teacher preparation, accountability programs, and competitive grant programs that can be used to drive innovation. Title II currently requires state report cards, data collection/additional reporting, and state oversight of teacher preparation programs (typically relying on national accreditation organizations). Given those levers, here are three problems that retooling HEA could help solve:

Diversity. Research has shown the need for a high quality, diverse teaching workforceAt the Urban Institute, our work has shown that minority serving institutions (MSIs) produce most of the nation's teachers of color. Additional federal support could be provided to MSIs through existing grant programs. Because states and districts are more acutely aware of their own needs, the federal government should use Title II dollars to leverage "Grow Your Own" teacher preparation programs that seek to fill locally identified shortages. These types of programs rely mainly on clinical experiences to grow and develop teachers and tend to be more racially diverse than traditional teacher preparation programs. Using data from New York, a group of researchers found that teacher preparation that contained clinical practice led to better outcomes in the first year of teaching. In addition to supporting "Grow Your Own" programs, Title II can require states to include a clinical component as a requirement in traditional programs. This presents an opportunity for preparation programs to diversify the types of students that candidates interact with while they are preparing to be teachers.

Data. The federal government collects data from teacher preparation programs that could be marshalled to help these programs meet the needs of their local communities. For example, states are required to report geographic and specialty shortage areas for loan forgiveness purposes. These are data that could be used to drive teacher preparation program creation. These data could also be made widely available to students in teacher preparation to help them make more informed major and career choices.

Accountability. Several states, including New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Florida, have already been experimenting with changes to teacher preparation accountability, in part thanks to the Race to the Top competition. Race to the Top called for linking student outcomes to teacher preparation programs and made other changes to teacher preparation programs and licensure requirements. In addition, some states have pledged to report teacher preparation candidate scores on entrance examinations and performance assessments as a part of program accountability metrics. Programs have also pledged to increase entrance and exit requirements. The increased reliance on measurable metrics of teacher preparation will be a central part of teacher preparation reform for the foreseeable future.

Research has indicated that there is as much variation in teacher outcomes within teacher preparation programs as there is between programs. Gary Henry and colleagues at UNC-Chapel Hill found large differences across several teacher preparation programs' graduates' eventual teacher effectiveness in a North Carolina sample of teachers and students. Therefore, states should continue to receive support to produce report cards for their educator preparation programs. Here also, the federal government could follow the lead of states that have increased accountability in terms of what types of preparation programs are added and what programs should close. Federal policy can also continue to provide resources that allow states to build on data systems that allow teacher preparation candidates to be linked to their eventual students' achievement.

Leveraging Title II to meet the challenges of the teaching profession should be a concern of policymakers as they continue to think about the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

—Constance Lindsay

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