Education Dept. to Move Forward With Plans for Improving Teacher Preparation

April 25, 2014

To strengthen the nation’s teacher-preparation programs, President Obama is asking the Department of Education to move forward with a plan to issue draft regulations that encourage and support states in developing systems for rating programs and providing them with information to help the programs improve.

"Poor programs, what they do is produce teachers who are underprepared, are ineffective, and who are frustrated," Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, said during a conference call with reporters on Thursday. "Too many teacher-prep programs give little or no information about how their graduates are actually doing once they enter the teaching profession. That is simply unacceptable and must change."

A draft of the proposed rule will be available for public comment this summer, Mr. Duncan said, with a goal of publishing a final rule within the next year.

Teacher-preparation programs have come under fire by the Education Department during the Obama administration. In 2009, Mr. Duncan accused the programs of doing a "mediocre job" of preparing teachers for "the 21st-century classroom." Last month several experts who testified before the U.S. Senate’s education committee said that the current federal oversight of teacher-training programs needed reform.

The department tried to craft regulations for the programs two years ago through negotiated rule-making, but the negotiators on the panel could not reach consensus on the department’s proposal.

Under that proposal, states would have been required to evaluate programs based on their graduates’ employment outcomes, the academic "growth" of their graduates’ future students (as measured by test scores, when available), and customer-satisfaction surveys. Only highly rated programs would have been eligible to award federal Teach Grants, which provide up to $4,000 a year to students who plan to work in high-need areas.

The panel’s impasse left the department free to propose whatever evaluation system it chose, although department officials implied they would take the panel’s views into account when issuing a new draft rule.

‘Their Own Meaningful Systems’

The department is now moving forward with its plans, at the president’s request.

In a news release on Thursday, the department said the proposal it would release this summer will build on efforts already under way in some states and will "encourage all states to develop their own meaningful systems to identify high- and low-performing teacher-preparation programs across all kinds of programs, not just those based in colleges and universities."

The proposal will also call for relying on those state-developed program ratings, in part, to determine programs' eligibility for Teach grants.

Programs now lack the feedback they need to identify their strengths and weaknesses, the department said, and have little information on where their graduates go to teach, how long they stay, and how they perform in the classroom.

Only five states—Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, and Tennessee—are now reporting information about teacher-preparation programs and their graduates back to the programs, potential teachers, and the public, it said.

Meanwhile, nearly two-thirds of new teachers say that their training programs left them underprepared for the realities of the classroom. Among complaints generally at the top of new teachers’ lists, Mr. Duncan said, is that programs do not adequately prepare them to teach in a diverse learning environment. He also said undergraduates are not being given enough opportunities to learn how to use the technology needed in today’s classrooms.

The changes the department will propose, Mr. Duncan said, "will get us closer to President Obama’s profound goal of having a great teacher in every single classroom around the nation."