Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act: Picking Up Where ESSA Left Off?

Teacher quality policy was all but forgotten in the recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESSA). But reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA) is up next and could provide an opportunity to improve the federal investment in our education system’s human capital. A bipartisan bill introduced last week gives a promising glimpse into lawmakers’ HEA priorities, particularly around Title II funding.

The bill, the Elevating Education Preparation Through Innovation Act of 2016, amends allowances in the Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) grants of Title II of HEA so that districts can choose which preparation provider or organization will serve as the primary partner for the grant. Currently, to qualify for a TQP grant, districts must partner with institutions of higher education. Nonprofits and alternative certification providers are supplemental partners.

As my colleagues have written, no type of preparation provider guarantees effective teachers. Therefore, allowing districts to freely choose the partners that will best fit their needs without any restrictions is a step in the right direction. Creating open opportunities for partnerships will have immediate implications for districts with the longer possible benefit of spurring innovation in the log-jammed teacher preparation space.

This is a timely bill for states and districts struggling to find talent to fill open teaching positions. Nearly 30 percent of the latest TQP grant awardees were in California, a state in which many districts are in search for teacher talent. Allowing needy districts to apply for a grant to help them find the best-fit talent is a logical solution.

Another part of the bill works to create a stronger connection between teacher professional development and teacher induction. Up to 10 percent of the TQP funds can be used to connect teachers’ clinical experiences and their placement districts’ professional development opportunities. It will be interesting to watch the progress of districts that choose to partake in this experiment to see if it has any impact on the grim professional development space.

The Elevating Education Preparation Through Innovation Act of 2016 has very little chance of passing. But that’s not the point. The bill is considered a “marker bill.” It’s meant to put a stake in the ground and give onlookers a taste of what’s to come in the HEA reauthorization process. If this is a signal that teacher quality will be a focus of HEA, then I look forward to the conversation that was nearly silent in the ESSA debate.