Improving Educator Preparation in the College Affordability Act

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Oct. 16, 2019

Stay tuned for continuing coverage of the College Affordability Act on EdCentral. For the first post in this series, see “Moving the Needle of Higher Education Accountability" here and for the second post “It’s Right There In the Name: The College Affordability Act” here. For more on the Higher Education Act, check out newamerica.org/HEA.

This week, Representative Bobby Scott, chair of the House education committee, released a bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act: the College Affordability Act. The bill is similar in many ways to the 2018 Aim Higher Act Scott released in response to House Republicans’ PROSPER Act.

The PROSPER Act put forth by then-chairwoman Virginia Foxx had completely eliminated Title II of the law—which currently focuses primarily on understanding and enhancing the quality of higher education programs that prepare teachers—and replaced it with a grant program to expand access to apprenticeships in state-identified in-demand industries. Chairman Scott’s College Affordability Act (CAA) reauthorizes Title II with its current focus on educators’ initial training, while making a variety of changes that could improve preparation for teachers and school leaders.

Enhancing Quality and Diversity Through Grant Programs

The bill renamesthe Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) grant program as the Teacher and School Leader Quality Partnership Grants, with the continued goal of funding partnerships between teacher and school leader preparation programs at institutions of higher education and high-need school districts/early childhood education programs to recruit and train new teachers. However, the new grant program differs in ways that go beyond the name change.

TQP is currently used to fund teacher residency programs—one-year school-based educator preparation program for individuals who hold a bachelor’s degree—in an effort to improve the quality of initial preparation that teachers receive. CAA continues this usage but expands the program by allowing funds to be used to develop Grow Your Own (GYO) programs that focus on the recruitment and preparation of individuals from the local community who have an interest in teaching, but are lacking the credentials to do so. GYO programs would provide candidates with financial and academic support as they complete their associate, baccalaureate, or master’s degree and earn their teaching or school leadership credential.

The CAA would also expand the use of funds to create teacher leader development programs, principal pipelines, district-level induction, and mentorship.

In Part B of Title II—Enhancing Teacher and School Leader Education—House Democrats authorized competitive grant funding to support teacher and school leader preparation at minority-serving institutions, dual certification for special education and English-language instruction in general education programs, pedagogy and coursework focused on social and emotional learning competencies, and graduate fellowships for doctoral students to advance instruction and pedagogy in critical shortage areas. While program set-asides for these purposes are laudable, it’s important to note that funding has never been authorized for programs in Part B of Title II of the Higher Education Act.

At a time when states and school districts are experiencing teacher shortages and trying to diversify their workforce, it’s critical that Congress update the Higher Education Act (HEA) to reflect the changes in the field. We know that educators of color are more likely to pursue an alternative route to teaching, therefore Congress should invest in high-quality pathways into the profession that are proving to attract and prepare teachers that meet the needs of schools and students.

Increasing Transparency for Programs that Prepare Teachers and School Leaders

Under the current HEA, states and institutions of higher education are required to collect and report data on their teacher preparation programs in “report cards” with the intent of enhancing the quality of teaching in our elementary and secondary schools. The CAA expands preparation program quality report cards to include school leader preparation programs, in addition to teacher preparation programs, and also requires several new “input” metrics be reported, such as admission rates and median and range of GPA for admitted students.

Currently, HEA requires very limited data to be collected on the outcomes of individuals who participate in educator preparation programs, such as program completion rates, or eventual entry into and retention within the teaching profession. This lack of information keeps prospective educators, hiring school districts, policymakers—and preparation programs themselves—from understanding which programs and strategies are most or least effective for preparing teachers to enter, persist, and succeed in the classroom. On this front, the CAA bill makes a variety of improvements.

Information on the number of past year program enrollees and completers is currently reported, but only enrollment data are disaggregated by race, ethnicity, and gender to provide the public with information about how well programs are serving different groups of potential candidates. Under the CAA, these data would continue to be included, with the improvement that completion data would also be disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, income status, and language diversity. Disaggregated completion data is a step in the right direction to understanding how candidates of color are faring in specific programs, but there would still be no way to calculate the completion rate of any given cohort of enrollees (e.g., how many students start and complete their teacher preparation program on time). Having a cohort graduation rate for educator preparation programs would add a level of transparency and help provide a more holistic picture of persistence and completion for different types of candidates

For each educator preparation entity in its jurisdiction, states would also, for the first time, be required to report to the U.S. Secretary of Education the number of recent graduates entering a teaching or school leadership position within six months of program completion, the percentage of recent graduates teaching or leading in high-need schools, employment retention rates after three years and five years, and the subject areas and grade spans in which they prepared recent graduates relative to the identified teacher workforce needs of schools in the state.

The bill would also require states to newly report on the total number and percentage of school leader preparation program completers placed as principals who are rated as effective or above with a state’s school leader evaluation and support system—or other comparable indicators of performance—after three years of leading a school. Notably, the bill does not require such effectiveness data for teacher preparation programs.

States are also currently required to assess and identify low-performing programs in the state, but under this proposal, the levels of performance and criteria for meeting those levels would now be determined in consultation with a variety of stakeholders. States would also be required to establish a period of improvement and redesign for at-risk programs and to provide those programs with technical assistance for no longer than three years. If at-risk programs do not improve after being assisted by the state in that period of time, programs would then be identified as low performing and would lose eligibility for federal funding.

While these changes are all improvements, the data would be even more useful and actionable at the educator preparation program level (e.g. elementary education, secondary science, etc.) in addition to the educator preparation entity (e.g. the institutions of higher education or other organization). This type of data would help prospective teacher candidates, hiring districts and educator preparation programs make more informed decisions about enrollment, recruitment, and program improvement.

Additionally, the bill maintains the reporting requirement for overall passage rates on state licensure exams for educator candidates taking exams, but it falls short in that it does not tell us how many students do not pass the exam when they attempt it the first time. First-time pass rates would help illuminate when (and which) candidates choose to retake the exam when not initially successful versus pursue another course of action.

While the CAA makes commendable improvements to Title II of HEA, Congress should take advantage of the opportunity it has to make critical updates to the data collection and reporting that is required of educator preparation programs and states. Tweaks to the programs that prepare educators are not sufficient to attract, prepare, and retain a high-quality and diverse educator workforce. The reauthorization of the Higher Education Act needs to promote high-quality, evidence-based preparation, including pathways that are preparing candidates of color, and it needs to improve data collection, reporting, and accountability requirements for preparation programs.

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