Senate Hearing on Teacher Prep Examines Data Collection, TQP Grants

On March 25, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) convened the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) to consider changes to Title II of the Higher Education Act (HEA), the portion of the law that addresses teacher preparation. This was the seventh hearing in a series in the Senate on HEA reauthorization.

The predominant theme of the hearing was concern that the Title II data reporting requirements for teacher preparation programs are out of date, onerous, and not useful for program improvement. All five witnesses agreed on this point and offered recommendations for change.

Witness Ed Crowe, senior adviser to the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, proposed eight data collection elements, including academic strength of students admitted to the program and retention in high-need schools and fields for the first 5 years of teaching. Witness Tim Daly, president of The New Teacher Project, urged that all the data elements be scrapped in lieu of a measure of new teacher success with students. He urged the federal government to make it possible to follow program graduates across state lines to assess their effectiveness in the classroom.

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), ranking member of the committee, noted that data should be available to those who will use it for program improvement—that is, programs and accrediting organizations. He professed limited faith in the capacity of states or the federal government to use data for program improvement. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) noted how important it is to ensure that the data collected are good data and that they are actually utilized.

Crowe noted that in too many cases, data collection has just become a job, not a part of a program improvement process. Senators Harkin and Alexander asked all of the panelists to submit written recommendations to the committee about what data the federal government should and should not be collecting.

Witness Mary Brabeck, Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University and board chair of the Council for the Accreditation of Education Preparation (CAEP), noted that the new CAEP standards require programs to show how they are using data for program improvement. Senator Alexander said he was encouraged by the strength of the new CAEP standards and noted that while continued improvement is needed, significant changes have transpired in the last 30 years.

There was no discussion about requiring states to rate all preparation programs with a 4-tier metric and link the rating to eligibility for federal student financial aid, as was proposed by the Obama administration during the teacher preparation negotiated rule making in 2012. One witness, Jeanne Burns of the Louisiana Board of Regents, did suggest in her written testimony that the federal government require states to create such a rating system.

Speaking on behalf of the Teacher Quality Partnership grants funded by Title II, witness Mari Koerner, dean of the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University (ASU), described the systemic and dramatic transformation of teacher preparation programs at ASU since their receipt of the grant. She also recommended that the grants be expanded to include principal preparation, a proposal that is part of the Educator Preparation Reform Act (S. 1062), a bill that reauthorizes Title II of HEA and is endorsed by AACTE and multiple other national education organizations. Committee members said they were eager to maximize the impact of the $40 million federal investment in those grants and asked the panelists to submit recommendations as to how to do so.

Senator Harkin expressed dismay that witnesses did not address how general education teachers are being prepared to instruct students with disabilities, particularly since their rate of inclusion in mainstream classrooms is so much higher than it has been in the past. Koerner noted that her college prepares teachers for dual certification with special education in many of its programs. (See also AACTE’s publication on this topic, Preparing General Education Teachers to Improve Outcomes for Students With Disabilities.)

Neither this Senate hearing nor the House hearing on teacher preparation in February reflected an appetite for an increased federal role in accountability related to teacher preparation. Rather, the goal appears to be a slimmed-down, relevant and useful data collection. It is good news for the field that its predominant voice of accountability may be its professional accrediting body, rather than the federal government.

AACTE has submitted recommendations to the House and the Senate for the reauthorization of HEA, though it is unlikely that Congress will act on a bill before the end of the year.

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Jane E. West

AACTE Education Policy Consultant