Obama Admin Offers New Regs for Teacher Preparation Programs

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The Obama Administration has announced a proposal that would regulate and improve teacher preparation across the country.

The administration believes that too many prospective teachers are graduating from teacher education programs unprepared to teach in a real classroom setting. Under the new plan, states would be required to issue report cards for all of their teacher preparation programs, including those at private universities as well as public, and alternative programs such as those run by individual school districts and nonprofits like Teach for America.

Upon approval from the Education Department, the ratings system would look at the performance of teacher after graduation from these programs, including how many obtain jobs as teachers, how long they stay in their field, and how their students perform on standardized tests and other academic achievement measures.

“Nothing in school matters as much as the quality of teaching our students receive,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters Thursday. “We owe it to our children to give them the best-prepared teachers possible.”

Public comment will be open for the regulations for 60 days, with the new regulations hoping to be issued by 2015.  However, states would not be required to fulfill the report card requirements until April of 2019.

Currently North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Louisiana already collect information concerning their graduates, making that information available to the public.

Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College at Columbia University and a critic of teacher preparation programs, said the country needs urgent action. “Our colleges and universities have waited far too long to transform these programs to meet the needs of both today and tomorrow,” he said

While other professions have regulations that carry through state to state to ensure consistency, teacher preparation programs vary from school to school, with states setting their own licensing requirements.  Duncan said that many of the programs do not set their requirements high enough in comparison to other university majors.

“The last thing they want or need is an easy A,” Mr. Duncan said. “This is nothing short of a moral issue. All educators want to do a great job for their students, but too often they struggle at the beginning of their careers and have to figure out too much on the job by themselves.”

According to a 2007 McKinsey study, while 100% of teachers finished at the top of their class in countries such as Singapore, Finland and other top nations in international exams, only 23% of teachers in the US did so.

Duncan said the programs need to track the progress of their students after graduation.  The new regulations will provide a feedback loop for those looking for a teacher preparation program, as well as districts choosing new hires.

A large part of a state’s assessment of each program’s quality will come from student performance on standardized exams.  Teachers unions immediately protested the idea, arguing that test scores do not accurately reflect teacher effectiveness.

“There’s no evidence these regulations will lead to improvement and plenty of reason to believe they will cause harm,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, adding that teacher prep programs might avoid placing graduates in struggling schools where test scores tend to be lower and teacher turnover higher.“Due to the focus on K-12 test scores, the very programs preparing diverse teachers for our increasingly diverse classrooms will be penalized.”

Duncan said that while student test scores would be used, it is important that it not be the only measure used when rating the programs.

The National Education Association said while they did realize that improvements were needed in teacher preparation programs across the country, the use of test scores to judge new teachers is “inappropriate.”

Sharon Robinson, president and chief executive officer of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, said linking test scores to federal grants could have unintended results for those new teachers thinking of working in high-risk schools because of the precedent it may set.  “The next question might be Pell grants,” Ms. Robinson said.  The grants offer federal tuition aid for low and middle-income college students.

In addition, the AACTE is concerned that the new regulations could potentially put a stop to any new innovations geared toward making teacher training programs more rigorous.

The department has tried to regulate these programs once before.  That effort failed in 2012, when negotiators could not agree on whether to use test scores to assess the validity of the programs.

The new plan would require states to rate each program as “low-performing,” “at-risk,” “effective” or “exceptional.”

Programs rated as “low-performing” or “at-risk” for two years in a row will lose their Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grants given out by the Education Department.  The grants provide as much as $4,000 each year to new teachers who work in struggling communities for at least four years.  In 2014, about 34,000 grants were given totaling $96.7 million.  Grants are used by candidates to help pay for their training.

Charles Barone, the policy director for Democrats for Education Reform, said that future problems will be prevented through the new updates.

“They could save a lot in the long run if they just got the training right from the get go,” he said.

“Too many people are graduating who aren’t prepared to teach. Then you get bad instruction for the kids. And we try to remediate that,” Barone said. “You’d do less of that and disrupt fewer lives if you just got it right from the beginning.”