The Obama administration last week announced draft regulations to evaluate the effectiveness of more than 2,000 teacher preparation programs nationwide, but how exactly they would apply to California is unclear.
The draft regulations come at a time not only when the state must train a new generation of teachers to teach using the Common Core State Standards, the new academic standards in math and reading adopting by 43 states, but also when it faces declining enrollments in its teacher preparation programs.
If the regulations are implemented, states would have to rank these programs in four categories: low-performing, at-risk, effective or exceptional. The outcome of the evaluation could have “high-stakes” consequences – only programs ranked “effective” or “exceptional” for two out of the previous three years would be eligible to provide their teachers-in-training with financial aid through the federal Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education, or TEACH program. The student aid program requires recipients to teach in a high-need field like math or science or in a school serving low-income students.
During the 2013-14 school year, the federal government provided $6.4 million in TEACH grants to 2,641 students enrolled in teacher preparation programs in California. That is out of about 32,000 students who received grants through the $95 million program nationally.
“We don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all solution here,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “What is right for California is not necessarily right for North Dakota. But we believe states are the right place to take leadership and ownership of this work.”
The proposed regulations state that administrators of teacher education programs would have to conduct surveys of their graduates and the principals of the schools where they work to gauge their respective levels of satisfaction, provide data on placement and retention rates, and use other measures to assess their effectiveness.
For California, the most contentious criterion listed could be the requirement that new teachers be evaluated on “measures of student growth, performance on state or local teacher evaluation measures that include data on student growth, or both, during their first three teaching years.”
In most states, these measures of student growth have included using students’ scores on standardized tests. California is one of only a handful of states that have resisted pressures from the Obama administration to move toward using test scores of students to evaluate teachers. The state has also resisted requiring districts to use a controversial “value added” statistical methodology that projects how a student should score on a test by taking into account certain demographic and other background factors, and then ranks a teacher based on the “value added” scores of the teacher’s students.
During a telephone press conference in Washington, D.C., last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan went out of his way to say that states would have maximum flexibility in evaluating their teacher preparation programs.
“I believe that states can be labs of innovation,” he said. “We don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all solution here. What is right for California is not necessarily right for North Dakota. But we believe states are the right place to take leadership and ownership of this work.”
U.S. Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell, a former president of the California’s State Board of Education, underscored that message.
“These regulations do not demand that states rate teacher training programs on the basis of how well students complete standardized tests, nor does it require states to use value added methodology,” he said. “What it does do is require states to come up with a measure of student learning outcomes which we believe strongly needs to be based on multiple measures. We are asking states to use, for example, either their own state regimens, or local teacher evaluation metrics to be able to do that…. To be very clear, we are not basing the evaluation of teacher education programs on simply student standardized test score performance.”
But the administration’s reference to “multiple measures” is widely understood to include measuring student performance through test scores. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, worried that the proposed regulations would make it less likely that aspiring teachers would would want to teach in communities where students have lower test scores — and discourage teacher preparation programs from placing their graduates in classrooms there.
“This will cause programs to reconsider placing their graduates in schools that serve our most vulnerable students,” she said in a statement. “And aspiring teachers who come from disadvantaged backgrounds will find their opportunities closed down as accountability pressures rise without increased support.”
In response to follow-up queries seeking clarification, a statement provided to EdSource by the U.S. Department of Education did not state directly whether California would need to include test scores as one of the “multiple measures” that must be used to assess a student’s academic growth.
Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad, the founder of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, welcomed the regulations, and emphasized the importance of teacher preparation programs giving their students opportunities to be in a classroom before they get their credential. “They need to provide more high-quality classroom experience for their students before they graduate,” Broad told the Los Angeles Times. “They also have to work with school districts to better meet the needs of today’s public schools. The new regulations are a step in the right direction.”
Officials with the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing say the state is already moving to revamp accreditation of teacher education programs. They will be looking at data from each program, such as surveys of both employers and graduates of the program, how many graduates actually enter teaching, and their retention rates once they do, and requirements for exiting the program, such as teacher performance assessments.
The commission will discuss the draft regulations at its meeting Dec. 11 and 12 in Sacramento. The commission accredits approximately 260 teacher preparation institutions. Last year, out of 33 institutions reviewed for accreditation, 24 were accredited, seven were accredited with stipulations, and only one – the small teacher preparation program run by Envision Schools, which operates three charter schools – had its accreditation revoked.
An additional challenge for California is declining enrollment in teacher preparation programs. The numbers have plummeted over the last decade or so, from 77,500 in 2001-02, to under 20,000 in 2012-13, the last year for which figures are available.
The regulations contain two changes from earlier drafts, according to Education Week. The timeline for complying with the new regulations has been extended, and withholding of TEACH grants for underperforming programs wouldn’t begin until at least 2020. STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) teacher certification programs would still be able to offer TEACH grants even if they aren’t rated as effective – as long as grant recipients “completed a year of their service requirements within three years of graduating.”
California educators have a chance to weigh in on the regulations during the 60-day public comment period. The final rule will be published in mid-June.
“This is a draft,” Duncan emphasized last week. “We look forward to people’s feedback to make this better, stronger, smarter.”