U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Tuesday announced new guidelines to improve the preparation of the nation's teaching ranks that will require states to rate the performance of training programs and shift federal funding to those that receive high marks.
The proposed regulations would allow states broad flexibility to develop measures of performance but demands that emphasis be placed on teacher outcomes, such as employment, retention and success in the classroom. That could include evaluating training programs based on the test scores of K-12 students taught by their graduates, a model that provokes heated contention in the education community.
The proposed changes could have broad implications for California, where an independent state agency, the California Commission for Teacher Credentialing, sets standards for teacher preparation for the more than 328,000 educators in the state's public schools. There are about 261 commission-approved institutions preparing educators, and about 1,395 other teacher training programs are accredited in the state.
The commission will review the regulations and will discuss them at the agency's meeting in December, according to spokeswoman Anne Padilla.
California State University is the nation's largest producer of teachers, with an annual average of 10,000 completing its programs, spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp said.
Citing research findings that teachers often struggle at the beginning of their career and say that they are unprepared, Duncan called better preparation a moral issue.
"Nothing in schools matters as much as the quality of teaching students receive," Duncan said during a briefing with reporters. "We owe it to students to give them the best teachers possible, and we owe it to teachers to give them the best education possible."
Duncan cited examples of programs already achieving high standards, including Arizona State University's, which screens out students who may not be good candidates for the classroom before they enter training and places teacher trainees in challenging, high-poverty schools where they often stay after graduation.
"We've done the opposite of what might be common sense by raising rigor and attracting a better quality student," said Mari Koerner, dean of ASU's teachers college.
Other measures could employ teacher and employer surveys and outside accreditation reviews, and restrict eligibility for federal TEACH grants — available for students planning to teach in low-income schools — to training programs that are found to be effective for at least two of the previous three years.
Many education reformers praised the proposed regulations as long overdue.
The Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that seeks to close the achievement gap, issued a statement saying that "Preparation programs that fail their graduates also fail students and ultimately our country."
Further, the group said: "As our schools work toward ensuring all students graduate high school college- and career-ready, we must ensure these programs are producing effective teachers and leaders."
Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad, a major education funder through the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, said the new regulations are encouraging, although training programs will still need more attention.
"They need to provide more high-quality classroom experience for their students before they graduate," Broad said. "They also have to work with school districts to better meet the needs of today's public schools. The new regulations are a step in the right direction."
Many other experts, however, decry the increasing use of student achievement to rank performance, arguing there is little evidence that test scores correspond to teacher quality.
"This will cause programs to reconsider placing their graduates in schools that serve our most vulnerable students," Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement. "And aspiring teachers who come from disadvantaged backgrounds will find their opportunities closed down as accountability pressures rise without increased support."
The Obama administration has encouraged school districts to evaluate teachers based in part on students' test results, but that effort has come under scrutiny from critics who say they fear instructors would be unfairly penalized and that test scores should not be used to guide instruction.
The proposed regulations will have a 60-day period for public comment, with the final rules to be published in mid-2015.