GAO Report: Low-Performing Teacher Prep Programs Must Be Assessed


The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report to help guide states through the process of improving teacher prep programs and oversight of low-performing schools.

“Teacher Preparation Programs: Education Should Ensure States Identify Low-Performing Programs and Improve Information-Sharing”, was presented to the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions, Committee on Education and the Workforce. Quality of teacher training programs are crucial for preparing professionals and helping them to meet new K-12 college- and career-ready standards which have been implemented, or are being developed, in nearly all states.

Title II of the Higher Education Act requires that states collect information on TPPs and report the data to the US Department of Education, which then reports the information to the public. According to the GAO’s 2014-2015 survey of states and the District of Columbia, state oversight officials reported that they approve teacher preparation programs by assessing the quality of the program design and analyzing candidate data such as program graduation rates.

Some states, however, reported that they do not assess whether TPPs are low-performing as is required by federal law. In fact, in order to receive funding under the Higher Education Act, states must conduct such an assessment – still, seven states reported to the GAO that they did not have a process in place to do so. One of the reasons some states cited was that they believed current oversight procedures were sufficient to assess program quality.

The Department of Education has told GAO that they have not assessed whether states’ TPPs are low-performing. This failure to assure that TPPs are performing well may result in potential teaching candidates who are not fully prepared to educate children. When states shifted to Common Core K-12 standards, most took steps to help TPPs prepare candidates to teach lessons aligned with the new standards and changed oversight accordingly.

The changes, in general, fell within three categories: increasing subject-matter knowledge; modifying coursework related to teaching techniques; and using classroom training to provide real world experience.

The report states that TPPs serve an important role in preparing new teachers and their students for future success. Because of the recent shift to college- and career-ready K-12 standards, the importance of such programs has increased, they say. It follows that the Department of Education must ensure that all states assess whether TPPs are low-performing as is required by the Higher Education Act, or the result could be that new teachers will be ill-prepared to teach their K-12 students.

The GAO recommends that the Secretary of Education act on several issues: developing a risk-based, cost effective strategy for assessing TPPs that are low-performing; studying Title II data elements and, if necessary, proposing to eliminate or revise any elements that are not useful; identifying limitations in the Title II data and disseminating this information consistently; sharing information about TPPs with Department of Education program offices and states.

The Assistant Secretary of the Office of Postsecondary Education responded to the report by stating that the Department had proposed regulations which would require states to report TPPs performance using “multiple performance levels based on measures that include useful outcome-based indicators of new teachers’ academic content knowledge and teaching skills.”

The proposal would also reduce some of the “data fields for many elements of the institutional and state report cards and add fields that are outcome-focused and more conducive to use in program improvement.” The Department will be working with its Title II contractor to examine variations in states’ interpretation of definitions in reported data elements and categories, and will further incorporate such information into reports, data tables, and websites.

The Assistant Secretary’s letter closed by stating that the Department already has methods for sharing data within and outside the Department, but would be developing plans to enhance the sharing of information on TPP quality in the future.