Department of Education calls for stricter teacher evaluation

The Department of Education is proposing a crack down on the quality of teacher education programs through a series of proposed changes that would allow more federal oversight in the evaluation of college programs that prepare educators.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan outlined several potential reforms Sept. 30, which include requiring teacher-training programs to thoroughly report on the performance and job placement of their graduates as well as the retention rate of their graduates’ students.

If the reforms are passed, the government will look toward students’ performances on standardized tests as another way to evaluate the quality of their teachers.

The plan also targets an increase in teacher diversity, allotting $40 million from the Department of Education to teacher-preparation programs focusing on minority students.

Sarah Gast, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, said the teacher education reforms are “very comprehensive in providing both spending and structural reforms in making teacher programs more accountable. Ultimately, the reforms aim to provide students with the best education possible.”

Certain aspects of the reform plan are still up for debate, with teachers’ unions questioning the reliance on students’ standardized test scores as a means of educator evaluation.

Though Graduate School of Education and Human Development Dean Michael Feuer thinks the federal plan “sets in motion a renewed focus on teacher preparation,” he said it is still too early to tell how the proposed changes might affect GW and other teacher education programs across the nation.

“It is certainly important for schools of education to continue to focus on improvement and innovation in the preparation and professional development of teachers,” Feuer said.

The graduate school of education, ranked No. 35 nationally for schools of education by U.S. News and World Report, currently prepares its graduates for going into classrooms by focusing on measures needed for a teaching license, Feuer said.

“Each program that leads to teacher licensure incorporates key performance-based assessments which are integral to meeting the licensure requirements and provide solid evidence of our candidates’ abilities to effectively implement student-centered teaching practices,” Feuer said.

The dean did not provide details of the school’s assessment practices.

“We have been working to create more formal methods to track the success of our graduates,” he explained.

GSEHD graduate Matthew Tosiello, who was named 2011 Teacher of the Year by Arlington County Public Schools, said the proposed changes show “we are at a crossroads in public education.”

“It is clear that graduate education for teachers needs to be improved,” the 2008 graduate said. “Today’s teachers face a very different environment compared with even 10 or 20 years ago.”

Tosiello added, however, that increased federal regulation “may not yield the most effective results,” instead favoring a solution that comes from inside schools.

“I believe that now is the time for schools and accreditation agencies to look inward, create a plan, seek public input and lead the discussion on teacher preparation rather than react to a federal statute or proposal,” Tosiello said.

As part of the reforms, the TEACH Grant program, which provided $110 million in financial aid to 37,000 students in need at teachers’ colleges last year, would be eliminated to make room for a scholarship program dedicated to ensuring higher standards for teacher training and licenses.

In its place, a $185-million Presidential Teaching Fellows program would grant scholarships to high-performing students in their last year of study at top teacher training programs.

The University received $97,378 from the TEACH Grant program for the 2010-2011 academic year. The Department of Education will work with Congress to introduce and pass the bill in the coming months, Gast said.

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