At long last the US Department of Education released its teacher prep regulations this week, prompting me to check my calendar. I had to look up the date of my first meeting with Department officials on the subject. Back then, I'd been willing to bet anyone that the Department would never finish its regulations – but nearly seven years later, this is a bet I've finally lost.
Were the regs worth the wait? On balance, yes--not just because they represent a big improvement over current Title II reporting requirements, but also because they reinforce the work many of the rest of us are doing on teacher prep.
What is most appealing about these regulations is more data and more transparency. States will need to annually survey principals and first-year teachers on the quality of the novice teachers' preparation programs. While many programs already engage in this practice, this requirement essentially requires a common survey, allowing for the first time real comparison among programs.
There will also be a slew of data generated about teacher supply, employment, and retention rates, perhaps putting to an end the current reliance on conjecture and anecdotes to predict when and where there's about to be a teacher shortage.
And in what may come as a surprise to some, I don't disagree with the decision to omit a requirement that states examine the test scores of students taught by prep programs' graduates. While the Department may have just thrown up its hands at the amount of resistance to test scores, the use of value-added measures to assess program quality is in fact fraught with methodological difficulties, especially for smaller prep programs. To get enough data points to reach a sound judgment of program quality, it's often necessary to collect teachers' performance data for five, or even more, years after graduation. That hardly seems fair to programs. The fact is that value-added measures only produce meaningful results for the few programs turning out big numbers of graduates who go on to teach tested subjects each year, and in some cases, the programs whose graduates' performance is a clear outlier.
A great substitute for test score data could be either candidates' pass rates on licensure tests, including the percentage of candidates passing these tests on their first attempt, as well as surveys of the students in teachers' first classrooms. Pass rates on licensing tests might have been something the Department insisted upon--though it's been down that road before to no avail both in the 1996 and 2008 HEA reauthorizations.
Importantly, these regs arrive at a singularly opportune moment--when the winds of change are blowing from every direction, including from within. It's certainly not just NCTQ raising the ruckus. The last five years has elicited unprecedented activity, with no fewer than 44 states passing significant teacher prep regulations. And what may be the biggest disruptor of all is the 30 percent drop in enrollment in teacher prep programs--for reasons that are anyone's guess, but which surely include the poor reputation of teacher prep. As anyone knows who has managed a budget, institutions are more likely to consider making changes when confronted with fiscal pressures.
The only aspect of the regulations that is absolutely without merit is the Department's decision to drop its requirement, present in previous drafts, that programs must raise their admissions standards. It's dropped in the final version because institutions made a lot of noise about the impact that raising standards will have on diversity. Not only is this common complaint denigrating to African American and Hispanic students—implying that a teaching career is only available to them if standards are kept intolerably low—but the consequence of an open door policy sounds a death knell for programs' ability to raise the rigor and quality of instruction. It perpetuates the low status of the education major on college campuses. The Department defends its decision by stating that its regulations set a high standard for program exit, but the details seem to imply that a candidate only need to pass the edTPA or a similar assessment which, in some states, is reporting about a 98 percent pass rate.
It's not that the final version of these regulations doesn't bear the marks of heavy compromise; but on balance, the federal regulations are generally sensible and respectful of the parameters of federal authority – and provide a much-needed opportunity to illuminate how prep programs' graduates fare in the classroom.
I can safely say that this is one bet I'm happy to lose.