Rules to Measure Quality of Teaching-Training Programs Slowly Take Shape

April 05, 2012

The U.S. Education Department and teacher colleges inched closer to agreement this week on a package of rules that would hold teacher-preparation programs accountable for their graduates' employment outcomes and performance as teachers in the classroom.

Under the proposed rules, states would be required to evaluate programs based on their graduates' job-placement and retention rates, the academic "growth" of their future students (as measured by test scores, when available), and customer-satisfaction surveys. Only programs deemed "effective" or "exceptional" by the states would be eligible to award federal Teach Grants, which provide up to $4,000 a year to students who plan to work in high-need areas.

During two and a half days of negotiations here, representatives of teacher colleges, accreditors, and unions expressed concerns that teacher-preparation programs would be disqualified from awarding Teach Grants based on unreliable or unproven measures of student learning. They asked the department to offer states temporary waivers from the rating requirement, and to require all states to confirm the validity and reliability of their "value-added" measures within five years. After some initial resistance, the department agreed.

It's unclear, though, if those concessions will be enough to secure consensus on the proposed rules. Some members of the rule-making panel are uneasy with the idea of evaluating programs based on test scores altogether, and others worry that the proposal could set a precedent for other federal programs. The panel was supposed to vote on the proposed rules on Thursday, but postponed its decision until at least next Thursday, when negotiators will try to resolve their differences via a conference call. If they are unable to reach consensus over the phone, they may meet for a fourth time in person.

Earlier this week, several deans of colleges of education sent letters to the panel criticizing its plan to judge programs based on test scores and arguing it would penalize programs for factors outside their control, such as class size and student demographics. They also argued that colleges and states did not have the capacity to track graduates across state borders to determine if they had found work or to survey them about their experiences.