Obama administration releases plan to grade teacher prep programs

Too many new teachers are under-prepared for the classroom and left figuring out how to reach students on their own. That’s the problem proposed regulations from the Department of Education mean to solve, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reports during a conference call.

Under the proposed rules, states would develop systems to rate teacher training programs that rely on tracking factors, such as: how many teacher prep graduates go into the teaching profession and stay at least three years; how effective new teachers and their principals believe their training was; how much academic progress a teacher’s students make; and whether programs are accredited by an agency that specializes in evaluating teaching programs.

By the 2020-21 school year, students in programs that states label as ineffective would lose eligibility for federal TEACH grants, which go to new teachers working in high-poverty, high-needs schools. The plan is the Obama administration’s effort to increase the rigor and perception of teacher preparation programs, which organizations like the National Council on Teacher Quality argue often have lower entry requirements and easier grading standards than other programs on the same campuses.

The federal announcement pointed to states that have already begun efforts to improve teacher preparation and raise the bar for candidates applying to credentialing programs.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters his state’s efforts to publish data on how well training programs’ graduates perform was key to Tennessee’s distinction as the state that saw the greatest improvement in students’ scores on national tests or reading and math.

But skeptics argue the regulations would make placing teachers in high-needs schools even harder.

“Due to the focus on K-12 test scores, the very programs preparing diverse teachers for our increasingly diverse classrooms will be penalized,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote in a statement about the proposal. “This will cause programs to reconsider placing their graduates in schools that serve our most vulnerable students. And aspiring teachers who come from disadvantaged backgrounds will find their opportunities closed down as accountability pressures rise without increased support.”

The department’s plan would reward programs whose graduates teach and stay in low-income, high-needs schools, Duncan said.

Deborah Koolbeck, director of government relations for the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, considers telling states to develop rating systems at all an unfunded mandate from the federal government.

With requirements like “surveying graduate and principals on the effectiveness of their training, the cost to track students across country school by school is the challenge,” Koolbeck said.

Critics and supporters of the proposal have the next 60 days to comment. The final rules are slated for release by mid-2015.

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