Teacher Prep Regulations Rise from Dead, Turn Spotlight to States

New AmericaThe U.S. Department of Education has released its final regulations governing how states hold their teacher preparation programs accountable. New America’s Melissa Tooley takes a closer look at the potential challenges with implementation, which falls squarely on the shoulders of State Education Agencies:

As with the recently-enacted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), these regulations leave most decisions about how to determine program performance squarely in states’ courts. It’s not being talked about, but this is actually the biggest non-change the regulations would bring to teacher preparation program accountability—in fact, the reluctance of most states to label poorly performing programs as such when they were required by federal law to do so was a key reason that the Department initially decided to develop these new regulations.

In general, policies like the new teacher preparation regulations are a step in the right direction. However, they are not really encouraging a push for excellence, only a push away from deficiency: the top rating category required by the federal government in its final regulations is “effective,” not “exceptional” (although states could choose to add an additional “highly-effective”-type rating category). If teacher preparation programs’ primary focus is on not being bad, instead of trying to be great, then the culture of ongoing improvement that we know we desperately need in our PreK-12 schools, and the programs that prepare educators to serve in them, is unlikely to materialize.

But the focus on deficiency rather than excellence is consistent with the statutory language in the Higher Education Act (HEA) that these regulations support. With HEA reauthorization widely expected to be on the congressional agenda next year, a great opportunity exists to take the idea of encouraging preparation programs to continue to learn and improve themselves to the next level. Until then, teacher preparation accountability may be business as usual for some states, just with a more complex set of data collection efforts to get there. But states with the moxie to take the long view—and put the needs of students and future educators before the conveniences of teacher preparation providers—now have the political cover to do so. While the Department’s new regulations don’t mandate accountability systems that incentivize excellence, they do more clearly outline the authority states have to move in this direction (or for the few states that have already done so, to continue their efforts in this area).

As states read and reflect on these new rules, they should think big. Not only are the means for improving preparation program quality similar to ESSA’s means for improving PreK-12 school quality, but the goals are as well: creating public reporting systems that rely on data and feedback to promote ongoing learning, not just for students, but also the adults working in and supporting our nation’s education system. The timeframes for design and implementation are also similar, with the bulk of the planning being required to happen in the 2016-17 school year. This creates an enormous opportunity for states to attempt to do what the federal government has not yet done, which is coordinate the myriad policies and programs governing teaching, from pre-service to in-service, into one coherent strategy—the method most likely to truly improve our learning systems for both students and educators.

However, the staff working on ESSA planning and implementation within a state are unlikely to be those working on planning and implementation for these teacher preparation regulations. In fact, these individuals aren’t likely to even be working for the same state authority, as K-12 and higher education are often governed by different state bodies. This poses a serious problem for areas of clear overlap between ESSA and the teacher preparation regulations. For example, measures of student learning are required components of both ESSA school accountability plans and teacher preparation accountability plans. If states fail to coordinate this element, they will end up with incongruous systems for K-12 and higher education that not only create additional burden on the state and local education agencies, but also breed confusion about what is most important.

Governors should encourage collaboration between those working to implement ESSA and the new federal teacher preparation regulations to ensure coherence instead of confusion. While this work is difficult, a 2013 report by the Center for American Progress highlights several states that have instituted efforts to improve communication and consistency between K-12 and higher education. If these new teacher preparation regulations prompt more states to follow suit, they will have been long worth the wait.

For more, see https://www.newamerica.org/education-policy/edcentral/teacher-prep-regulations-rise-dead-turn-spotlight-to-states/