Cause for concern at teaching colleges

Federal regulations prove troubling for teacher preparation programs
By: | Issue: March, 2015
February 20, 2015

As the U.S. Department of Education combs through the public comments received on its proposed federal regulations for teacher preparation programs, citizens must waitÑprobably until late summerÑto learn the fate of the vast and controversial proposal.

The plan will require states to rate teacher preparation programs based on graduates’ performanceÑand then tie new teaching students’ eligibility for federal financial aid to those ratings.

It isn’t just teacher educators who are concerned. In fact, the proposed regulations are troubling to the whole education profession, as well as to state education agencies, which would be forced to develop costly new systems to collect and analyze data. Let me explain why everyone should be paying attention.

Ratings based on flawed measures

If the Department of Education believes that the test-driven accountability environment is “sucking the air” out of pre-K through 12 schools, why would it propose an extension of that model into higher education?

These regulations would reinforce the reliance on test-based teacher evaluations, including value-added modeling (VAM)Ña fragile measure at bestÑas a metric for program evaluation.

In addition, holding a preparation program accountable for graduates’ placement and retention in schools fails to recognize the importance of external factors such as district resources, school leadership, and professional peer support.

These can play a significant role in graduates’ success. Furthermore, these proposed regulations would require states that do not have waivers under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to create and implement testingÑand would leave this cost to the states.

Overreach of federal authority

States are responsible for the oversight of teacher preparation programs and of the institutions implementing these programs, yet the proposed federal regulations would largely overtake this responsibility. The regulations would establish metrics by which each state would have to rate its share of the 25,000 teacher preparation programs across the country.

These metrics include student growth, employment outcomes, survey results and accreditation/program approval status. Currently, states determine the criteria for evaluating programs. If the regulations are enacted, programs would risk losing funding through Title IV of the Higher Education Act (HEA) if their state’s criteria do not align with the federally imposed indicators.

Implementing surveys and compiling data to rate teacher preparation programs would add to states’ and institutions’ burden of meeting the current reporting requirements under HEA. The proposed regulations present an unfunded mandate that would have a significant fiscal impact for states, which could be forced to develop new testing systems to comply with the required metrics.

Threat to diversity in workforce

The proposed regulations would tie federal TEACH grants to the new ratings system. Specifically, TEACH grants could be used for tuition only in programs with one of the top two ratingsÑreducing the number of programs that students could attend using these grants.

Low- and middle-income students, as well as students of color, are disproportionately affected by changes in financial aid for higher education. Restricting financial aid would turn back the progress many of our organizations have made in pursuit of equityÑparticularly our work to build an educator workforce that is culturally and racially representative of the communities they serve.

In short, tying federal student financial aid to the ratings system proposed in the regulations would inhibit access to higher education and diversification of the teacher workforce.

We all want to see our education system improved, but these proposals would not bring about this goal; in fact, they would hinder innovation and reform.

Sharon P. Robinson is president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.