The dean of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development spoke out Wednesday against proposed Department of Education standards to tie federal ratings of education programs to how graduates perform as teachers.
Dean Michael Feuer, along with nine other leaders from top teacher training programs at universities like Stanford and Columbia, signed a letter criticizing the federal government’s first attempt to sort out which colleges are preparing educators best, claiming the federal ratings would be burdensome and based on flawed metrics.
Under the proposed federal guidelines, preparation programs like GSEHD would be rated “low performing,” “at risk,” "effective” or “exceptional" based, in part, on students' standardized test scores once teachers reach the front of the classroom.
The changes, proposed in September but being negotiated this month by a federal panel of rule makers, are part of the Obama administration’s focus on sharpening how educators are prepared by marking their “value-added” to student learning.
The letter of opposition outlines concerns that rating teachers based on student achievement scores fails to account for factors outside the teachers’ control, like class size.
“That’s something we obviously care a lot about, not because we’re afraid to be evaluated by any means. I’m the first one to say there are plenty of things we should be learning and trying to do better,” Feuer said. “But we are concerned about the misuse of certain kinds of data and the misleading inferences that are drawn from certain kinds of data."
The deans argued that the stipulations would impose a “regulatory burden” on states because they would be forced to collect information to track graduates’ job placement and performance.
“Most statewide data systems are not yet able to follow accurately program graduates as they enter the workforce, thus making it challenging if not impossible on much of the data in the proposed regulations,” the deans wrote.
The proposed rules would also limit federal grants only to graduates at education schools rated “exceptional” or “effective” by states.
President Barack Obama proposed phasing out Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education grants in his 2013 fiscal year budget in favor of $190 million in funding for a new Presidential Teaching Fellows program, which would now be tied to the quality of a teacher preparation program.
“To be eligible for funds, states would measure the effectiveness of their teacher preparation programs based on student achievement data of their graduates, among other measures, hold teacher preparation programs accountable for results and upgrade licensure and certification standards,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told the House Appropriations Committee in late March.
The proposed rule may misfire because some aspiring teachers can only afford to go to schools close to home instead of the best schools, the deans wrote in their letter.
Duncan has looked toward standardized measures like student performance in the Race to the Top Program to bolster the country’s education system.
“Our larger goal is to make teaching not only America’s most important profession – [but also] America’s most respected profession,” Duncan told a townhall of teachers in February.
When Duncan announced the changes last September, Feuer said the school would have to wait and see how the rules would affect teacher preparation programs.
A federal panel negotiated the rules last week without striking a deal. The panel, formed by the Department of Education and made up in part of representatives from education schools and teachers unions, will return to the bargaining table Thursday.
If the negotiators fail to reach a conclusion, the Department of Education will take over the final phase of writing regulations.
Education Department officials did not return requests for comment.
Teacher-training schools have been put under a more powerful microscope in recent years as school districts across the country implement unprecedented evaluation systems.
Feuer will chair a National Academy of Education committee funded by the National Science Foundation that will try to determine the best methods for evaluating teacher education programs.
“We want to develop some improved models and metrics for the evaluations of teacher preparation programs because it’s one thing to complain about what’s wrong with these methods, but it’s another try to do good,” Feuer said.
At their first workshop in June, he said education experts on the committee would examine how other countries create higher achieving education systems while the U.S. falls behind.
“There’s a very cogent argument there in what we’re doing with our hard-charging reform policies – accountability, testing and all that – don’t seem to be the way other countries who seem to be doing better than us are going about their school reform,” he added. “This is a very major issue for the future of education.”
In last month’s U.S. News and World Report graduate rankings, the Graduate School of Education and Human Development slipped seven spots to No. 42, the first time the school has fallen out of the top 35 since 1995.
Feuer was also frustrated with separate rankings by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit that will team up with U.S. News to rate more than 1,000 teacher-training programs in the country by 2013.
"Teacher preparation schools are resisting our project, mainly because it is the first time a non-partisan group has ever conducted something like this,” said Arthur McKee, managing director of teacher preparation studies at the council. “So far we have received support of our process from state educators, and have been using open-records to obtain our information.”
Even with resistance, the council plans on publishing its findings in January 2013, and hopes to then move on to assessing and working cooperatively with private universities soon after.
“We believe it is in the best interest of education to evaluate our teachers and where they came from. Not only do we want to know what is not working in the classroom, but also what is working. It is cycle of continuous approval,” McKee said.