Fed up with teacher education programs it believes routinely underperform, the Obama administration wants to compel states to start rating the programs programs based on how well they prepare students for the profession.
And teachers are not happy about it.
Recently, more focus has been given to the perceived need to boost the quality of America’s teachers, especially in the country’s most struggling schools. Activists on every side of the debate have pushed a variety of solutions, from restricting tenure so that ineffective teachers can be easily fired to greatly boosting teacher pay so that better teaching candidates are attracted to the profession.
A new rule announced by the Obama administration on Tuesday night attempts to influence teacher quality at the source, in the country’s hundreds of different teacher education programs. The rule will, for the first time, compel each state to establish standards for evaluating and rating training programs for teachers. Programs that are found lacking in each particular state will in turn be punished with the loss of certain federal funds.
Currently, the federal government dispenses TEACH grants to education students who agree to begin teaching in disadvantaged schools after graduating. The grants are up to $4,000 per student and amount to over $150 million per year. Under the newly announced rule, TEACH grants will no longer be universally available, but will instead only be granted to aspiring teachers attending programs that are found to be performing well by their state.
Whether a teacher-training program is up to snuff will be based on a variety of factors, including what percentage of its graduates quickly find jobs, how well the program is evaluated by graduates, and, critically, how well graduates’ students perform on standardized tests.
The proposal to incorporate testing into the evaluation of teacher programs has many traditional Obama allies up in arms. Since students in disadvantaged schools almost always perform worse on standardized tests, they argue, the rule could end up cutting off funds to the programs that are sending the most new teachers into disadvantaged schools.
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the country’s second-largest teachers union, swiftly released a statement condemning the plan, saying it showed a lack of vision.
“By replicating the K-12 test-and-punish model…the administration is simply checking a box instead of thoughtfully using regulations to help craft a sustainable solution that raises the bar for the teaching profession,” said AFT president Randi Weingarten. Weingarten added that the administration’s action would be ludicrous if applied to any other field. “Would you rate the dental school programs that serve low-income communities, where patients come in with a high number of cavities, unsatisfactory? No,” she said.
The National Education Association (NEA), the country’s largest teacher union, was more charitable in its outlook, lauding the desire to improve teacher education but also noting that they “are opposed to the use of flawed tests and value-added measures to make high stakes decisions about students, teachers, or teacher preparation.”
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan defended the government’s proposal, telling the press that test scores are necessary to see whether students are improving under certain teachers. More broadly, he said, a federal nudge was needed because many states are failing to hold teacher education programs accountable in any way.
Foes, however, might be able to use the Department of Education’s own rhetoric against it. In a press release announcing the planned rule, the Department lauded recent efforts in over ten states to either collect more information on their teacher prep programs or hike the admissions requirements at the schools themselves. If so many states are making progress as-is, opponents might reasonably suggest that a federal intrusion is unnecessary and could potentially hinder further innovation at the state level.
Unhappy teachers will have ample time to work against the proposed rule if they so choose. While the final rule publication is planned for 2015, states would only be expected to start gathering the relevant data in 2016, and full implementation with the potential loss of federal funding will only arrive at the end of the decade, as Obama is leaving office.
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