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White House Proposes Tougher Accountability Standards for Teacher Colleges

EWA seminar panel on teacher college accountability, Oct. 21, 2014, Detroit. From left: Stephen Sawchuk, Education Week; Jim Cibulka, CAEP; Segun Eubanks, NEA; Kate Walsh, NCTQ. (NEA Media)

In 2011, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called it “laughable” that in the prior decade the majority of states had failed to rate even one teaching preparation program as inferior. On Tuesday, the White House released draft accountability regulations that are no joke for the nation’s teacher colleges, and could result in a loss of federal funding if their graduates fail to do well on the job.

In his conversation with reporters Tuesday to announce the proposed changes, Duncan noted that when it comes to cracking down on inferior teacher prep programs, 34 states were in the midst of a 12-year draught.

“It has long been clear that as a nation, we could do a far better job of preparing teachers for the classroom. It’s not just something that studies show –I hear it in my conversations with teachers, principals and parents,” Duncan said in a statement. “New teachers want to do a great job for their kids, but often, they struggle at the beginning of their careers and have to figure out too much for themselves. Teachers deserve better, and our students do too.”

Earlier this month the National Council on Teacher Quality published a scathing report describing a degree in education as a way to score a much too “Easy A” in college. The advocacy organization’s president, Kate Walsh, told the Huffington Post that she “(reserves) judgment about whether or not [the proposed regulations] will be ultimately effective, but there is at minimum a huge advantage in having the federal voices play a role here. … I think that this definitely speaks to the tremendous frustration that all of us in education feel about the quality of teacher preparation in the United States.”

The proposed regulations have significant consequences for the nation’s teacher preparation programs, which have come under increased scrutiny – and fire – in recent years.

As Inside Higher Ed’s Michael Stratford explains:

“Under the proposal, states would be required to evaluate teacher preparation programs based on a combination of factors, including job placement rates and alumni satisfaction surveys. The states would also have to judge programs based on how well graduates perform in their first three years of teaching as measured by ‘student learning outcomes,’ which may include their scores on standardized tests.”

After prolonged negotiations – with stakeholders including teachers’ unions and teacher colleges – failed to bear fruit, the Obama administration said it would move ahead on its own. The draft regulations didn’t sit well with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who said in a statement Tuesday that the formula relies too heavily on “high-stakes tests” and will ultimately hurt the students most in need of effective classroom instruction.

“Teacher preparation programs that send graduates to teach in high-need schools, where research shows the test scores are likely to be lower and the teacher turnover higher, will receive lower ratings and could lose funding,” Weingarten said.

Education Week’s Stephen Sawchuk provides his trademark lucid breakdown of the 400-plus pages of proposed regulations, pointing out that the associations representing the nation’s higher education institutions aren’t thrilled by the idea of increased federal oversight. The proposed regulations would also determine which colleges qualify for a slice of the $100 million in federal grants set aside to recruit and train teachers to work in underserved communities.

In case you’re wondering why this matters, Sawchuk has the answer to that, too:

It matters because, along with the Education Department’s “gainful employment” proposal for for-profit training programs and its forthcoming college-rating rules, it signals the agency’s intent to try to hold higher education more accountable for outcomes.  The rules also considerably expand the scope of teacher-preparation reporting: They would require it at the individual program level, not merely the average across an institution. (For comparison’s sake, the department estimates that there are about 25,000 individual programs within about 2,200 providers.) 

At EWA’s seminar on the teaching profession, held last month in Detroit, we dug into the question of teacher preparation accountability. Jim Cibulka, executive director of the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation – the organization overhauling the voluntary credentialing standards for the nation’s teacher colleges – said that more government oversight wasn’t the solution. Rather, teacher prep programs should follow the lead of medical schools and law schools and aim for high standards both in the training and in tracking outcomes for graduates, Cibulka said.

But at the same seminar Walsh of the NCTQ compared the nation’s teacher prep programs to “the Wild West.” If so, it appears a new sheriff could be headed to town. 

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