Obama Aims for Crackdown on Teacher Training Programs

Tens of millions of dollars in federal financial aid are planned to be used to reward teacher training programs that prepare educators who repeatedly improve student test scores. Stephanie Simon, writing for Politico Pro, reports that US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, announced that the administration was going to revive the push for tighter regulation of hundreds of teacher training regiments.

The goal: To ensure that every state evaluates its teacher education programs by several key metrics, such as how many graduates land teaching jobs, how long they stay in the profession and whether they boost their students' scores on standardized tests. The administration will then steer financial aid, including nearly $100 million a year in federal grants to aspiring teachers, to those programs that score the highest. The rest, Duncan said, will need to improve or "go out of business."

Similar to the crackdown on "for profit" career training colleges, in the form of a regulation that has not gone beyond a draft, hundreds of degree institutions could be closed down. The reason? Not placing enough students who graduate in well-paying jobs.

President Barack Obama has declared this as the "year of action". The objective is to assist the middle class, whether or not Congress buys into the initiative. Both of these plans of action have been worked on for the last few years. The teacher preparation regulation was addressed in 2012, but was abandoned because of political disagreement.

Traditional schools are wary of being accountable for the ratings of their graduates based on their students' scores on standardized tests . Mary Harrill, senior policy director for the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, believes that the weighting of this factor when compared to the many other metrics involved with teacher ratings, does not give an accurate picture of teacher performance.

The formulas for measuring how much "value" a teacher adds to a student's test scores are complex and often carry a sizable margin of error.

The American Statistical Association warned that formulas like this one should be used with care because they "typically measure correlation, not causation" according to the group. Many factors can skew a student's score, such as a barking dog or an interruption. Also, some teachers (physical education, music, many high school teachers) do not administer standardized tests. How would their scores be calculated? Still, the administration believes that what happens in the classroom is "the whole ball game".

In a 2013 review of preparation programs for teachers, the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit group advocating tougher teacher standards, found that training in classroom management was an area of the teacher education process that was sorely lacking. The largest teachers' union in the US agreed, but was hoping that this initiative would not be "a quick-fix, test-and-punish, market-based ranking of programs."

According to Mitoko Rich of The New York Times, these proposals do not include any money to pay for the suggested rating procedure, but the $100 million, alluded to by Duncan, could come from the current funding for teacher preparation programs.

The Secretary of Education said that the US is not keeping pace with other countries. Will Dunham, reporter for Reuters quoted Duncan as saying:

"We don't think that's fair to our students. And we don't think it's good for our nation and our nation's economic interests".

04 30, 2014
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