Teacher Preparation Programs under Scrutiny: The Federal Government Proposes Change

Teacher education is a hot topic in local school systems and current federal policy discussions. According to an article in Education Week, almost half of all educators leave the teaching profession within their first five years on the job, and about a third of all teachers are expected to retire in the next five years. These deficiencies in the teaching system have led many to question the methods for training and retaining strong educators. Federal rules on teacher preparation programs are being challenged and redefined.

Teacher Education Reform Plans

In September, the Obama Administration released a plan for teacher education reform and improvement titled “Our Future, Our Teachers.” According to the Department of Education:

In the next 10 years, 1.6 million new teachers will be needed to take the place of teachers who will retire. Many of these educators will pass through traditional teacher preparation programs. While there are many good teacher education programs in this country, far too many of the programs that prepare our teachers are inadequate. Improving these programs is essential to ensuring our nation’s students receive the education they deserve. (“Our Future, Our Teachers“)

Not everyone was onboard with the President’s plan, and negotiators nominated by the Education field held meetings on February 27-29 to draft a new set of regulations to give to the Department of Education. The new proposal would require states to classify their teacher-prep programs in four categories ranging from “low performing” to “exceptional.” States would also have to assess outcomes of higher education teacher prep programs by surveying graduates and school districts, documenting teacher-placement rates, and looking at student-achievement results through standardized tests. Debate around these assessment measures continues as many don’t agree on the amount of responsibility a higher education institution should have in the performance of a teacher. The Education Department is set to prepare another version of the draft regulations before the final negotiating session in April.

Funds Rewarding Teacher Preparation

President Obama’s FY 2013 budget also proposes new reforms to teacher preparation by offering funding opportunities to those states willing to reform their teacher preparation and assessment programs.
Allocating $3 billion to the Excellent Instructional Teams fund, President Obama’s budget proposal would consolidate many teacher funding programs and would maintain the current institutional and state report cards for teacher education (under Title II). His plan would include the following funding opportunities

$2.5 billion for Effective Teachers and Leaders State Grants – States would receive grants to help them develop new definitions of “effective” and “highly effective” educators to be used in assessment systems. States would also have to specify how they plan to equally distribute their “effective” educators.
$400 million for Teacher Leader Innovation Fund – States and locals would be eligible for grants by making a commitment to improving the effectiveness of teachers in high-need schools. Proposed programs would need to outline new conditions for identifying and rewarding high performing educators.
$75 million for Teacher and Leader Pathways – This would continue funding for current grants including School Leadership, Teacher Quality Partnership, and Transition to Teaching.

While the intention of this plan is to create a stronger workforce of educators, many teachers are against assessment of teacher quality, and arguments around what factors will be used to assess teachers continue to be debated by many.