Third Way Report on TEACH Grants Comes Up Short

A recent report by the think tank Third Way claims that the federal Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant program is failing to meet its aims, instead burdening nearly 40% of recipients to date with converted unsubsidized loans after they failed to complete all program requirements.

The report calls for changes to the program, either through “short-term fixes” such as reducing reporting requirements and limiting grant use to “high-performing” programs (as proposed in the new federal regulations for teacher preparation programs) or, preferably, in a thorough overhaul that streamlines all federal assistance for teachers into a simple loan-forgiveness program.

Unfortunately, although loan forgiveness and easier rules sound appealing, the proposed revisions would have severe equity implications. Rather than enabling prospective teachers to attend college in the first place, a loan-forgiveness program would require students to find alternative funding initially and only see reimbursement once they enter the teaching profession. Limiting access to college conflicts directly with the purposes of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, of which TEACH grants are a part.

Although this conflict is a clear deal breaker, it is not the only shortcoming of the Third Way proposal. The report also claims that a majority of TEACH grant recipients attend “low-performing” preparation programs, based on rankings of graduate education programs in U.S. News and World Report and information obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request of the U.S. Department of Education. Not only are the U.S. News rankings based on weak methodology that heavily weighs “peer and superintendent assessment,” they also apply only to graduate programs—whereas the federal TEACH grant data do not distinguish undergraduate from graduate-level grants. The report loses credibility for ignoring these differences.

AACTE supports a different federal policy solution, the Educator Preparation Reform Act (EPRA), which would restrict grant eligibility to juniors, seniors, and master’s-level students while also preventing the use of TEACH grant funds at programs deemed “low performing” or “at risk” by the state. The EPRA would also create a proportional payback provision that would give “credit” to those students who were unable to complete the full term of their service obligation, reducing the amount that would get converted to a loan.

An in-depth review of the TEACH grant program would be useful and welcome, but the Third Way proposal comes up short.

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Zachary VanHouten

Manager of Programs and Advocacy, AACTE