(By Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg)
(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

There has been loud applause in the education world for the new Every Student Succeeds Act, the successor to No Child Left Behind that has passed the House and is expected to become federal law soon. It has been hailed as a fix-it to the broken NCLB law, and it does indeed moderate some of NCLB’s biggest problems. But, perhaps because the legislation was only made public a few days before the House voted, there has been little time to look at the details in the bill.

In this post, Kenneth Zeichner, a professor of teacher education at the University of Washington at Seattle, does just that in regard to how the bill approaches teacher preparation programs — and he reveals some deep concerns. For example:

* Provisions in the legislation for the establishment of teacher preparation academies are written to primarily support non-traditional, non-university programs such as those funded by venture philanthropists.

* The legislation “oversteps the authority of the federal government” in several ways, including by declaring that

the completion of a program in an academy run by an organization other than a university results in a certificate of completion that may be recognized by states as “at least the equivalent of a master’s degree in education for the purpose of hiring, retention, compensation, and promotion in the state.”  The federal government absolutely has no business in suggesting what should and what should not count as the equivalent of a master’s degree in individual states.

* The legislation seeks to mandate “definitions of the content of teacher education programs and methods of program approval that are state responsibilities.” As a result, it lowers “standards for teacher education programs that prepare teachers for high-poverty schools … by exempting teacher preparation academies from what are referred to as ‘unnecessary restrictions on the methods of the academy.’ ”

Here’s the piece by Zeichner, who is a member of the National Academy of Education and professor emeritus in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and who has done extensive research on teaching and teacher education.

 [Final NCLB rewrite is public at last — all 1,059 pages — just days before Congress votes]

By Kenneth Zeichner

The fundamental tenets of the Every Student Succeeds Act – the successor to No Child Left Behind – are now well known. It lessens the latter’s focus on standardized test scores and shifts much policy-making power from the U.S. Education Department back to the states. But many educators may be surprised to learn what it includes about teacher preparation. There are provisions in the bill  for the establishment of teacher preparation academies – and they are written to primarily support non-traditional, non-university programs.

In October 2013, I criticized a bill called the GREAT Teachers and Principals Act, known as the GREAT Act. It was initiated in March 2011 in conversations between leaders of the New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF); Norm Atkins, founder of the Relay Graduate School of Education; Tim Knowles of the University of Chicago; and several members of Congress.

[Why the ‘GREAT Teachers and Principals Act’ is not great]

The purpose of this bill was to provide public funds for promoting the growth of entrepreneurial teacher education programs such as the ones seeded by New Schools Venture Fund (for example, Relay, MATCH Teacher Residency and Urban Teachers) that are mostly run by non-profits. At the time, the CEO of NSVF was Ted Mitchell, who is now the U.S. under secretary of education.

In June 2011, NSVF circulated a letter seeking endorsements for the bill. Among those who signed the letter were organizations in favor of greater deregulation and market competition in teacher education. Some have been financially supported by NSVF (Teach For America, TNTP, MATCH, Relay, etc.). Other backers included individuals and advocacy groups such as Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform. While this bill was introduced in the 112th Congress, it was not enacted.

On May 23, 2013, the GREAT Act was introduced into Congress and was included in Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization proposals in both chambers. It was eventually included in the final reauthorization bill passed by the House, but not in the final bill passed by the Senate. It was included, however, in the final compromise bill now before Congress which the House passed this week and the Senate is primed to approve this coming week. The teacher preparation academies that would be created under the legislation will be required to prepare teachers to serve in “high-needs” schools.

I argued then, as I do here, that the provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act that relate to teacher preparation academies have been primarily written to support entrepreneurial programs like those funded by venture philanthropists. These include fast-track teacher education programs such as Teach For America, Relay and TNTP, which place individuals in classrooms as teachers of record before they complete certification requirements. Typically these classrooms are in schools that serve students in high-poverty communities. Although there have been some changes in the language in since 2011, the provisions still serve to reduce standards for teachers prepared through the academies and will widen inequities rather than reduce them.

While I applaud the overall focus in Title 2 of the legislation to provide funds to promote innovation and improvement in teacher education, there are several specific provisions that are problematic and should be removed. The first is on page 323 (lines 1-8). It requires states that receive funds for teacher preparation academies to allow those who teach in that state to serve as teachers of record while enrolled in a teacher education academy. This provision serves to promote fast-track teacher preparation programs without informing parents whose children are taught by fast-tracked teachers that these “teachers” are still enrolled in their teacher preparation programs.

In recent years, Congress, with the urging of Teach For America and the Department of Education, inserted language into general spending bills to change the federal definition of “highly qualified teacher” that was part of NCLB. A circuit court of appeals had ruled that the phrase could be used only for those teachers who had completed certification requirements  but fast-track teacher prep programs didn’t like that — so Congress changed it, allowing teachers with little training to be considered “highly qualified.” Although that highly qualified teacher provision has now been eliminated from the new legislation, parents should be able to have the confidence that all teachers meet entry-level teacher standards specified by states. If states choose to allow fast-track teacher preparation programs, then states should be required to inform parents whose children are being taught by these teachers with this information.

A second provision in the new legislation that is troubling is the requirement that the authorizers of teacher preparation academies issue degrees or certificates of completion “only after the teacher demonstrates that he or she is an effective teacher as determined by the State, with a demonstrated record of increasing student achievement either as a student teacher or teacher-of-record.” This federal requirement of requiring states to include in their definition of effective teaching a demonstrated record of increasing student achievement is inconsistent with the rules of construction for Title 2 of the bill. These are specified in section 2302 (pp.407-408).

“Nothing in this Title shall be construed to authorize the Secretary or any other officer or employee of the federal government to mandate, direct, or control, a State, local educational agency, or school’s … teacher, principal, or other school leader professional standards, certification, or licensing.”

Requiring states to include a “demonstrated record in increasing student achievement” for program completion in academies (a provision in the original GREAT Act as well) is inconsistent with the intent of the bill to limit federal control over matters controlled by state authority. It also does not make sense to require this for student teachers, interns or residents who are not teachers-of-record and who complete their clinical experiences in the classrooms of experienced mentor teachers. Student achievement in the classrooms of nonfast-tracked teacher candidates will be mostly a reflection of the teaching of the mentor teachers.

[The full Every Student Succeeds Act]

It makes more sense, and is more consistent with the intent of the bill, to use the same definition of teacher effectiveness for program completion in teacher preparation academies that is used for teacher residencies. This provision for teacher residencies is stated on p.307 (lines 8-12) as follows: “acquires effective teaching skills as demonstrated through completion of a residency program, or other measure as determined by the state which may include a teacher performance assessment.”

Another place where the legislation oversteps the authority of the federal government is to declare on p. 306 (lines 6-14) that the completion of a program in an academy run by an organization other than a university results in a certificate of completion that may be recognized by states as “at least the equivalent of a master’s degree in education for the purpose of hiring, retention, compensation, and promotion in the state.”  The federal government absolutely has no business in suggesting what should and what should not count as the equivalent of a master’s degree in individual states.

The most troubling aspect of the new legislation in regard to teacher preparation is its attempt to lower standards for teacher education programs that prepare teachers for high-poverty schools. It does this by exempting teacher preparation academies from what are referred to as “unnecessary restrictions on the methods of the academy.” Here the federal government is seeking to mandate definitions of the content of teacher education programs and methods of program approval that are state responsibilities.

The so-called “unnecessary restrictions” that are most troubling are the inability of states to require advanced degrees for academy faculty in academies as they do for faculty in other teacher education programs (p.305 lines 5-6), to restrict the number of course credits in the program of study (p.305 lines 10-12), to place restrictions on undergraduate coursework as long as individuals have passed state content exams (p.305 lines 13-19), and to place restrictions related to program accreditation by an accrediting body (p.305 lines 20-22). All of these restrictions on states would interfere with their responsibility to define the content and methods of approval for teacher education programs and would set a lower bar for teachers who are prepared in the academies.

Imagine the federal government supporting medical preparation academies or other professional preparation academies where the faculty would not be required to have the academic qualifications required by the states and accrediting bodies. Colleges and universities that prepare teachers are required to meet state, and in some cases also national accreditation body requirements for faculty and are able in many, if not most cases, to employ current or recent teachers and administrators as course and clinical instructors.

To imply that individuals with current and recent teaching experience are unable to be hired to work with teacher candidates because of the existence of academic qualifications for teacher educators is a false argument that has been constructed to enable those non-university programs with few or any faculty with advanced degrees to gain access to this federal money.

Also, not allowing states to ensure that teachers in academies have completed the undergraduate and professional coursework that they believe to be necessary for successful beginning practice as a teacher such as courses in the teaching of reading or mathematics or science is irresponsible and lowers standards for teachers being prepared to teach in schools where students can least afford to be subjected to underprepared teachers. Also a number of states require elementary and/or secondary teachers to complete academic majors at the undergraduate level in addition to their professional course and clinical work. These states would be prevented from applying these high academic standards to teachers who are prepared in the academies.

Despite allegations by critics that the evaluation of the quality of college and university programs consist of examinations of required coursework and clinical experiences without any attention to program outcomes, many states and the national accreditation body CAEP (unlike the National Council on Teacher Quality that also rates teacher education programs) already go beyond examining program inputs such as course and clinical experience requirements and require evidence that state teaching standards have been met, including the 11 states that require the use of the edTPA for initial teacher licensure. The edTPA is a performance assessment that was developed by a partnership between Stanford University and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and is supported by the National Education Association.

States should be able to retain the right to define what professional and academic coursework is needed in the academies while all programs are held accountable for the same rigorous program outcomes.

Similarly, 12 states currently require all teacher education programs to be accredited by the national teacher education accreditation body, the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). Prohibiting these states from requiring teacher preparation academies to be nationally accredited usurps the states’ role in setting teacher education standards for programs operating within their boundaries.

Nothing that I have argued would prevent non-university teacher education providers from operating their programs, and in the case of fast-track programs, from sending un-certified teachers into high-poverty schools as teachers-of-record if this practice is permitted by the states. It is wrong, though, for public policy and public funds to be used to support sending under-prepared teachers into schools impacted so profoundly by poverty and to continue to deny our most vulnerable students equitable access to fully prepared, certified, and in many cases experienced teachers. Parents have a right to expect that all teachers are required to meet the same high standards in order to become a teacher-of-record fully responsible for a classroom.

Critics of college and university programs have argued that policies that require program completion and initial certification before teachers become teachers-of-record have largely failed and that bold innovation led by social entrepreneurs is needed to redesign teacher education. They argue that the alleged ability of their programs to produce teachers who can raise students’ test scores is evidence that accountability requirements should be lessened to support innovation.

While on the surface, requiring programs to ensure its graduates raise student achievement may seem like a good idea, as educator Mike Rose has pointed out, this narrow way of defining teacher effectiveness masks many potential complexities and may actually serve to widen opportunity gaps. For example Rose argues that:

You can prep students for a standardized test, get a bump in scores, yet not be providing a very good education. The end result is the replication of a troubling pattern in American schooling: poor kids get an education of skills and routine, a lower tier education, while students in more affluent districts get a robust course of study.

Removing the program and teacher-quality standards required by states and CAEP for programs in the teacher preparation academies lowers the bar for teacher preparation. Focusing primarily on raising student achievement as a measure of teacher education program quality ignores the recent warning of the American Educational Research Association about the using student test scores in high-stakes decisions about teachers and teacher education programs. It will also serve to expand, without an adequate warrant, the influence of fast-track preparation programs and programs with a narrow mission of only raising student test scores.

There is clear evidence that the claims made about the alleged failure of college and university teacher education and about the innovative nature and success of the new non-university programs are overstated, and in part, are a result of selective and repeated citing of research which supports the position of deregulation and the creation of greater market competition.

Yes, college and university teacher education is in need of improvement, but it is far from the generalized “industry of mediocrity” that it is claimed to be. It is possible to stimulate the kind of innovation that is needed in teacher preparation without lowering standards and expanding fast track teacher preparation programs as the new version of the GREAT Act is designed to do.

Critics of college and university teacher education frequently complain about the high cost of teacher education and the wasting of public resources. However, most of the federal contributions to teacher education in the public universities that continue to prepare most of the nation’s teachers are in financial aid to students and not in funds to support program innovation.

Over the last decade, there have been severe cuts in state support to public universities which have undermined opportunities to innovate in teacher education programs and to make them more connected and responsive to public schools and local communities. The funds proposed in the Every Student Succeeds Act” offer an important opportunity to support and extend in significant ways the innovation that is already underway in college and university teacher preparation programs, and in programs run by others.

The teacher preparation academies that will be supported by the funds provided by this act should be available to both college and university and non-college and university programs, but the standards for teacher educators, teachers and programs should not be lowered for the academies. All pathways into teaching should be required to meet the same high standards that all parents expect for the teachers of their children.

There is little reason to believe from the documented poor performance of deregulation and markets in K-12 education, in other sectors of society, or from the experience of other countries with strong records of student achievement in their public schools, that lowering standards to allegedly promote innovation will contribute to greater equity in public education.