Dear Commons Community,
A draft of a new rule introduced by the U.S. Education Department in late November is being questioned as to whether holding teacher education programs responsible for student learning helps, or hinders, efforts to close racial gaps in student achievement. The most controversial piece of the draft rule is a plan to tie eligibility for federal Teach Grants to “value added” measures of student learning and labor-market outcomes, with underperforming teacher education programs becoming ineligible to award the grants. As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education:
“The Obama administration, which argues that tying federal funds to measures of student growth compels educators and institutions to improve; on the other side are the educators themselves, who say testing hurts the low-income and minority students it’s meant to help.
The battle over the elementary and secondary bill is just getting started in the U.S. Senate. But the fight over the administration’s plan to raise the bar on teacher preparation is coming to a close, with comments on the proposed rule due to the Education Department by next Monday.
With the deadline looming, the American Federation of Teachers held a panel discussion here on Tuesday to discuss how the proposed rule would affect minority-serving colleges and the high-need schools they often serve.
The administration argues that the shift would benefit low-income and minority students by improving the quality of their teachers. Currently, many of the least-qualified teachers work in the highest-need, most challenging rural and urban schools…
…critics, including teacher unions and colleges, say the proposed rule would create disincentives for programs to send teachers to high-need districts, where test scores tend to be lower and teacher turnover higher. They are urging the administration to scrap the rule, or at least limit it to a pilot program.
“This is a distraction from an important social-justice agenda,” Sharon P. Robinson, president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, said at the discussion on Tuesday.
Currently, only 12 percent of the nation’s teachers are members of minority groups. Nearly three-quarters of inner-city teachers are white. Advocates worry that withholding Teach Grants from institutions that serve large numbers of minority students would result in the training of fewer teachers of color, deepening the racial mismatch between the nation’s teachers and the growing minority-student population.
“Who stands in front of you should reflect who you see at home, and who you see in your neighborhood,” said Derryn E. Moten, a professor of history and political science at Alabama State University, and another panelist.
Colleges complain that the proposed rule amounts to a vast unfunded mandate on states and institutions, which would have to pay millions of dollars to develop new measures of student learning and systems for tracking graduates into the work force.
“These institutions are already under-resourced,” said Arthur Hernandez, dean of the College of Education at Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi. The rule, he said, would only draw away dollars from teaching and learning…
…The proposed rule is the federal government’s attempt to force states to raise their standards. While states could choose their own metrics and set their own performance thresholds for rating programs, they would be required to consider how many of their graduates got and kept jobs, and how much their graduates’ future students learned. Only programs deemed effective or exceptional by their states would be eligible to award Teach Grants, which provide students with up to $4,000 in aid each year.
But existing value-added measures of student learning are unproven, and critics argue that they were never designed to evaluate teachers, much less the programs that prepare them. They cite a recent statement by the American Statistical Association that concluded that “the majority of the variation in test scores is attributable to factors outside of the teacher’s control, such as student and family background, poverty, curriculum, and unmeasured influences.”
“The achievement gap is really the tip of this much bigger iceberg of systemic problems in education,” said Kevin K. Kumashiro, dean of education at the University of San Francisco, in an interview. “We need to be talking about the larger problems and not just trying to blame teachers.”
Talking about larger, more difficult societal issues has not been the forte of Arne Duncan and U.S. Department of Education. Their approach has been the simplistic Neoliberal policies of testing and accountability that have largely failed public education throughout the country.