SCORE recently released a report on teacher preparation in Tennessee in which we highlighted the need to better prepare early-career teachers for the classroom. Fittingly, that same week, the US Department of Education (USDOE) released long-awaited regulations for teacher preparation programs. These final regulations reflect extensive public feedback gathered since USDOE released draft rules in 2014.
Our team has reviewed all 695 pages of the final regulations, and we are excited about the potential of these rules to improve educator preparation. More importantly, Tennessee is well-positioned to provide leadership on several of the accountability requirements in the regulations. Key provisions in the final regulations include:
○ State report cards: States must publish an annual report card that contains information on how educator preparation programs (EPPs) are performing on four indicators. These indicators are student learning outcomes, employment outcomes as measured by graduates’ job placement and retention rates, teacher and employer satisfaction surveys, and characteristics of teacher preparation programs such as whether candidates possess content and pedagogical knowledge. States have the flexibility to choose weights for the four required indicators, and they can include additional indicators.
○ Rating programs: States must rate all EPPs using at least three categories—effective, at-risk, and low-performing. States must introduce the ratings system through a pilot in the 2017-18 school year.
○ TEACH grants: Programs that are rated less than effective for two out of any three years will no longer be considered a Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education, or TEACH Grant-eligible program. These federally-funded grants (up to $4,000 a year) are awarded to teachers who commit to working in high-needs schools after graduation.
○ Student learning outcomes: Final regulations remove language that student learning outcomes must be included “in significant part” to assess the performance of each EPP. The regulations provide states with three options to determine student learning outcomes: student learning growth, a teacher evaluation measure, or any other relevant state-determined measure.
○ Entry and exit requirements: States won’t be required to use “rigorous entry” requirements to assess teacher preparation program performance. Instead, states will only be required to use “rigorous exit” requirements such as measures of curriculum planning and assessment of student learning.
Many of the regulations listed above have been in place for several years in Tennessee. The State Board of Education (SBE), for example, already publishes a state report card on EPPs across the state. The SBE will release a redesigned version of this report card in December 2016. This version will contain most of the indicators required by the regulations, with the exception of surveys, which the board plans to include in later versions of the report. One change that the board will have to make to the report card is reporting data at the program level, which the regulations require, rather than at the institution level. Reporting data on the performance of the secondary math program within an EPP, for example, provides valuable data to potential applicants about the program before they enroll. Another change involves publishing placement and retention rates for early-career teachers who work in high-needs schools. Since early-career teachers are more likely to be placed in classrooms with more students of color and low-income students, effective educator preparation is key to closing achievement gaps.
Based on SCORE’s review of relevant research, I am also encouraged by the move away from entry requirements such as SAT/ACT scores as an indicator of effective programs. There is little evidence to suggest that raising admission requirements would lead to improved performance of graduates once they begin teaching. Increasing admission requirements could also reduce the number of diverse and nontraditional applicants, such as career-changers, who apply to EPPs. Instead, as our report recommends, Tennessee should focus on improving the transparency of the student admissions process.
The USDOE regulations reinforce the positive momentum in Tennessee to improve educator preparation. Over the coming months, Tennessee has a clear opportunity to provide leadership on educator preparation, especially to hold EPPs accountable for how well they prepare candidates for high-needs schools. All students in Tennessee deserve access to highly effective teaching. These regulations are a step towards ensuring that our children are taught by teachers who are prepared on day one.