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Group Urges Feds to Yank Aid From Poor-Performing Teacher-Prep Programs

The Higher Education Act is up for reauthorization, as Alyson Klein reports in last week's edition of Education Week. What's one thing you're bound to see? Lots of recommendations from Washington-based groups on how they want a revised law to look.

The latest set of recommendations, from the Education Trust, which advocates on behalf of poor and minority students, focuses on the HEA's teacher-preparation-accountability provisions.

A brief refresher: The HEA requires each state to come up with a way of designating programs that are "at risk" or "low performing."

The Education Trust notes that programs with low ratings can, under federal law, lose federal financial aid if the state subsequently withdraws its approval from those programs. The problem, it says, is that the law doesn't require states to act in this way; few, if any, ever have. In other words, the Education Trust says, the federal designations don't amount to much without more teeth. (I've noted before that the federal and state systems for reviewing teacher-preparation progarms operate in parallel, rather than in tandem.) 

The closest we've come is an Education Department proposal to disallow low-performing programs from offering TEACH grants, which subsidize coursework for applicants who agree to teach in high-need fields and schools. The Education Trust would essentially expand that to all the major financial-aid programs. That's a big deal because of the amount of federal funding that flows through colleges through the aid programs.

Under the Education Trust's recommendations, current students enrolled in programs that get low designations could continue to receive federal financial aid, but the program would not be permitted to offer it to any new students unless it improved. 

It's a safe bet that the higher education lobby will not be a big fan of this proposal.

Many of the advocacy group's other recommendations for the HEA align with policy developments already occuring in the field, such as requiring programs that prepare teachers to be more selective and take student outcomes into account. The Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation recently approved standards to that end, and the Education Department's forthcoming teacher-prep regulations, which have been delayed for nearly a year at this point, are also expected to include them.

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