Unintended consequences could hurt minority teacher recruitment and reduce the number of good teachers in high-poverty K-12 schools
Education officials are giving mixed reviews to proposed federal regulations on teacher preparation programs, with some saying that uniform standards are long overdue and others warning that the result could be fewer minorities in the nation’s teaching ranks.
The U.S. Department of Education in November unveiled the draft regulations, which would greatly expand upon existing accountability requirements in Title II of the Higher Education Act.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that teacher training has been shown to greatly influence the quality of K-12 learning, but that neither Title II nor existing accreditation and approval standards do enough to ensure those programs are doing the job.
“This is nothing short of a moral issue,” Duncan told reporters. “We owe it to students to give them the best teachers possible, and we owe it to teachers to give them the best education possible.”
Among the new requirements in the department’s 400-page proposal:
- Teacher prep programs would gauge their effectiveness based on a set of department-established indicators, including placement and retention rates of their graduates, surveys of those graduates’ employers, and the academic achievement of the graduates’ students.
- Based on the results, programs would be rated as “exceptional,” “effective,” “at risk,” or “low performing,” with details reported annually and posted prominently and promptly on their websites.
- Programs rated “at risk” or “low performing” two years out of three would lose federal TEACH grants, which support teachers in training who agree to work in schools that serve low-income students.
If adopted, the regulations would be phased in and wouldn’t be fully implemented until 2019.
Scott Ridley, dean of the College of Education at Texas Tech University, said the recommendations seek to address a genuine problem: inadequate training of teachers. The Department of Education estimates there are 25,000 teacher preparation programs in the country, and Ridley believes that “there are a lot of colleges of education that are really not preparing teachers to be successful.”
Ridley notes that only a tiny minority of teacher training programs have been identified as inadequate through existing evaluation criteria. A recent analysis by Education Week found that nationwide since 2009, state regulators have closed or suspended only 12 teacher education schools, departments, or providers.
“Colleges of education have been allowed to go on just as they are for a long, long time because … speaking very candidly, they’re kind of second-class citizens,” Ridley said. “They’re not engineering; they’re not law; they’re not the medical school. … So unfortunately, I don’t think the history suggests that universities will do it on their own.”
Mari Koerner, dean of the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, said that the link between teacher preparation and classroom effectiveness is well documented, and that common standards in the training of teachers are essential.
“We know there are children who, if they have an incompetent teacher two years in a row, may never recover in terms of achievement,” Koerner said. “If everyone’s doing a great job, then there should be some way to know that. And if everybody’s not doing a great job, then we need to have some way to make sure there are some standards that guarantee this for every child — that every child, at least minimally, should have a good teacher.”
Nonetheless, Ridley and Koerner have concerns about the proposed regulations. Koerner notes that valid benchmarks by which a teacher’s effectiveness over time can be measured remain elusive.
Ridley worries that colleges of education might try to “stack the deck” by directing their graduates to accept jobs in more affluent, high-achieving schools and avoid having lower standardized test scores drag down the college’s rating. Moreover, Ridley said, the regulations might serve as a disincentive for teacher prep programs to recruit minorities.
More than half of the nation’s K-12 students are minorities, but according to the National Center for Education Statistics, some 80 percent of U.S. teachers are white — about the same as a decade ago.
“What do we need? We actually need high-potential teacher candidates of color to go back to these communities, and they need to be effective change agents, or our country really is in trouble,” Ridley said. “I really worry about this [proposal] having a negative consequence for both the type of teachers that will be attracted into teaching and the districts that colleges of education are willing to work with.”
Despite the potential for unintended consequences, Koerner and Ridley both said that the proposal is a step forward. “I think that this will definitely rock the boat,” Ridley said, “and will make colleges of education and universities really think about an area that has been on autopilot for a long time.”
The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education is less optimistic that the regulations will improve teacher preparation. Indeed, AACTE suggests that the new rules regarding data collection may be so onerous and expensive, colleges of education could end up diverting scarce resources away from instructional programs and scholarships — as well as existing state- and program-level efforts to become more accountable and effective — to comply with the federal mandate.
The U.S. Department of Education pegs the cost of implementing the new rules at about $42 million over 10 years, a figure that AACTE describes as “astoundingly low.”
Deborah Koolbeck, AACTE’s director of government relations, said the association is also concerned about the use of student achievement data in rating the quality of the preparation program for those students’ teachers — “one more use of testing that it wasn’t intended to be used for”— at the very time some states are stepping back from using student test results in teacher evaluations.
“We know that in high-poverty regions and very high-need schools, chances are — for many reasons that actually have nothing to do with the teacher preparation program — their scores are going to be lower,” Koolbeck said.
Coupled with higher entrance standards for schools of education, higher tuition rates, and limits on TEACH grants, which primarily benefit lower-middle income students, “ultimately this will work against diversity in the [teaching] workforce,” Koolbeck said. “We already have declining rolls in teacher prep. And now, depending on how all of this is implemented, it’s definitely one of our concerns that it will continue to have a negative impact, and we could see the numbers going down [further].”●
Michael Rene Zuzel is a contributing writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity.