New rules could grade teacher programs on outcomes—of their future students

The Department of Education (DOE) published proposed regulations for teacher-training programs last week that critics say will hurt high-need areas, reports the Chronicle for Higher Education.

The new rules announced last week would order states to judge such programs partially on graduates' employment rates and success of their future students. Programs determined to be ineffective will lose the ability to give out Teach Grants, which can be up to $4,000 per student per year and help colleges recruit prospective students.

The regulations, officially published Dec. 3, will ensure teachers are prepared for their first day in the classroom, says the Obama administration. A 60-day public commentary will inform the final rule expected to be effective September 2015.

"New teachers want to do a great job for their kids, but often they struggle at the beginning of their careers," says Arne Duncan, secretary of education, in a written statement. He adds, "Teachers deserve better, and our students do too."

Concern for underserved regions

But skeptics assert the rule will hurt programs whose alumni serve high-need areas, where faster teacher turnover rates and lower student test scores tend to occur. The new system, they say, will discourage programs from placing teachers in the schools that need their graduates most.

"There’s no evidence these regulations will lead to improvement and plenty of reason to believe they will cause harm," says Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, adding "The very programs preparing diverse teachers for our increasingly diverse classrooms will be penalized."

Individual states already report completion rates and licensure examination pass rates to the federal government. Few programs are "underperforming," and in 2012 only 1% of programs were declared "at risk" or "low performing."

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These numbers were reported even as school leaders raised concerns regarding teacher preparation. A recent survey of from the Education Schools Project found only a third of principals thought new teacher-college graduates "maintained order and discipline in the classroom," and just 16% said they "met the needs of students with limited English proficiency."

Rule reactions

Some educators welcome the new focus on outcomes, which will require states to report data on job placement, retention, customer satisfaction, and "student growth."

"The only real measure of teacher effectiveness is student learning," says Arthur Levine, president of Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and former president of Columbia University's Teachers College.

But critics say the current "value added" measurements are not representative of teacher ability.

"The majority of variation in test scores is attributable to factors outside of the teacher's control, such as student and family background, poverty, curriculum, and unmeasured influences," says a statement from the American Statistical Association.

No existing state tests record reliable teacher performance measurements, says Donald Heller, dean of Michigan State University's College of Education. Instead, they measure student performance, he says, and basing teacher performance off of that is a stretch.

Tracking alumni across state lines could potentially be very expensive, say colleges, who continue to ask who will fund the surveys of graduates and school principals required by the rule.

In response, Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell emphasized the regulations ask states to use "multiple measures" of student learning to "leverage their investments," but they do not make states rate the programs based solely on standardized tests.  

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Meanwhile, others wonder whether the regulations are a "test bed" for Obama's higher education performance-based college ratings (Field, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 12/1).

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