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Does the President’s New Budget Signal a Change for Teacher Preparation?

Published:  April 18, 2013
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Photo licensed CC from Tulane Public Relations

While poring over the president’s fiscal year 2014 budget request, we noticed several subtle, but critical, shifts in the way that the administration addresses teacher preparation grants and regulations.

Just as in the fiscal year 2013 budget request, the administration is proposing to phase out the current TEACH Grants program in favor of a $190 million Presidential Teaching Fellows program. What follows is our attempt to read the tea leaves in the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed budget.

TEACH grants, started in 2008, provide $4,000 a year to eligible undergraduate or graduate students who agree to teach a high-needs subject in a high-needs school for at least four years within the first eight years after they graduate. In the 2013 budget, the Department projected that a large number of grant recipients – perhaps as high as 75% – will not fulfill the service requirement and instead will see the grants converted to Unsubsidized Stafford loans. The 2014 budget justification does not cite this figure, indicating only that a “significant” number of recipients will not fulfill the requirements, and that the Department anticipates about $17 million in revenues from converted grants.

In last year’s Presidential Teaching Fellows proposal, the administration would have provided formula grants to states to improve teacher preparation program performance and finance scholarships of up to $10,000 for students in the last year of an effective education program. Scholarship recipients would commit to teaching a high-needs subject in a high-needs school for at least three years out of six following graduation.

This year’s budget request includes the same framework for granting scholarships, but the provisions for improving teacher preparation programs have been softened. Previously, the Department would have required states to “withdraw approval of programs persistently identified as low-performing,” noting that 38 states and D.C. have not yet identified any low-performing or at-risk teacher training programs. Programs would be given technical assistance to improve before having their approval revoked after a given number of years.

Now, funding is contingent on states’ willingness to “hold teacher preparation programs accountable for results, including withdrawal of approval for programs persistently identified as low-performing” – a subtle difference, but an important one. Rather than revoking approval, states would be required to “establish and enforce a timeline for withdrawing financial support” from schools and alternative preparation programs that have received technical assistance but have not improved in a given number of years. And rather than focus on the closure of schools that produce ineffective teachers, the 2014 budget proposal also has new language that encourages states to “facilitate the broad adoption of practices employed by [high-quality] programs” to broaden the share of teachers prepared using high-performing methods.

This language shift may be the result of the stream of conversations around teacher preparation program accountability that occurred after the last budget release. At the end of February in 2012, ED released a draft set of federal regulations to join the TEACH grant eligibility to teacher preparation reporting under Title II of the Higher Education Act. Submitted for consideration under a negotiated rulemaking process, the regulations would have classified teacher-prep programs in four categories – high-performing, satisfactory, low-performing, or at-risk – based on new indicators including student learning outcomes, employment levels, and satisfaction surveys from recent graduates and schools that hire them. Students attending schools rated in the bottom two categories would not be eligible for federally-funded TEACH grants.

The negotiated rulemaking process fizzled out without a consensus  in April, so ED has been left to write regulations governing teacher preparation programs and TEACH grants on its own. These new rules were initially expected by last fall but thus far are still in progress. In the wake of this slow-down, those on the inside are not optimistic that significant regulations will move forward this year.

Nonetheless, in February the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) released a draft set of accreditation standards for teacher preparation schools that provides for increased use of outcome-based measures. The standards have spurred feedback, particularly from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), which objects to the creation of a “gold standard” designation for top programs and provisions for the use and interpretation of outcome data.

It remains to be seen whether the revised language in the 2014 budget will move the conversation around teacher preparation towards a feasible outcome for all stakeholders. In the meantime, a few states, including Louisiana and Tennessee, have already implemented systems for tracking student outcomes for graduates of teacher preparation programs. Furthermore, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has partnered with U.S. News & World Report to release a ranking of quality of teacher training programs in 2013. Even if the Department ends up dragging its feet, it’s clear that the push to hold teacher preparation programs accountable for their graduates’ achievements will go on.

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