Tag Archives: US Department of Education

Go Forth and Improve, Teacher Preparation Programs. But Don’t Ask How.

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Image by Kevin Dooley via Flickr

A few weeks ago, former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wrote an open letter calling out education schools. In it, he made several blunt remarks about the quality of teacher preparation programs, including that current teacher training “lacks rigor, is out of step with the times, and […] leaves teachers unprepared and their future students at risk.”

What the former Secretary’s letter didn’t include, however, were specifics on how preparation programs should improve. He talked a lot about grades, and about holding teachers to high standards, but that’s it.

At this point, you may be thinking: “You can’t expect him to get into the nitty gritty! The letter was more an op-ed than a policy brief.”

Sure. But then last week, the Department of Education released the final version of its long-awaited teacher preparation regulations. The regulations are an effort to hold teacher preparation programs accountable for the performance of the teachers they train after those teachers enter the classroom. Using teacher performance data, the regulations require states to create a system that rates programs as effective, at-risk, or low-performing.

Like the open letter, these regulations are devoid of specifics for how programs should improve. They say that states need to provide technical assistance for low-performing programs, for example, but don’t hint at what that support should look like. When the regulations were out for public comment, which were due in February 2015, several commenters suggested that the regulations should include specific prescriptions for what states need to do to support programs — but the Department declined, saying instead that states have “the discretion to implement technical assistance in a variety of ways.”

Why do both of these documents — representing the past and future of the highest education office — say practically nothing about how preparation programs can get better?

The answer is depressing: As a field, we don’t know how to build a better teacher preparation program.

That’s what Melissa Steel King and I found in our latest paper, A New Agenda: Research to Build a Better Teacher Preparation Program. There’s half a century of research on what makes a good teacher, but that research provides only the barest outlines of what an effective preparation program should look like. So much of teacher prep research asks “Does it work?” when really we need to be asking, “How well does it work, for whom, and under what circumstances?” Continue reading

How To Win Federal Education Grants: Tips from Bellwether’s Lina Bankert and Steph Wilson Itelman

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced it will award a $27 million Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant to our client, Harmony Public Schools, over the next five years. Bellwether is honored to have partnered with Harmony on developing their human capital strategy and vision for the grant, and we’re thrilled to see such a substantial investment in their vital work for kids.

We’re also proud to have advised the Tennessee and Louisiana Departments of Education on their successful applications for Charter School Program and TIF grants, respectively.

Lina Bankert and Steph Wilson Itelman led this work for Bellwether, and we spoke to them about developing federal education grant proposals; what differentiates a successful application; and how you can win highly competitive, much-needed funding for your organization. Continue reading

Let’s Make a Deal: The ESEA Compromise Congress Should Make

Just like your favorite sitcom, Congressional Democrats and Republicans have been engaged in a will they/won’t they relationship for eight years over reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Could the 114th Congress be the season where they finally get together? That’s what some ardent, right-leaning ESEA watchers (like Fordham’s Mike Petrilli and AEI’s Rick Hess) are hoping, given their general fandom of Senator Lamar Alexander’s current approach. But despite hopes for consensus, Alexander’s draft bill actually makes it harder to reconcile the largest issue on the table: the federal role in education.

Let me explain. New hope for an ESEA compromise isn’t just driven by ideology. On the policy surface, it also appears that the stage could be set for a deal. Everyone agrees on a more limited set of federal requirements than NCLB. For example, both political right and left think that states (not the feds) should play a starring role in creating school rating systems based on performance, graduation rates, and other measures; identifying low-performing schools; and designing and implementing interventions to improve them.

Further bolstering the mood? The annual testing plot-twist nobody everybody saw coming appears to be a mere diversion to create fresh conflict between the major players, instead of recycling storylines from past seasons (see: the 112th Congress “Should teacher evaluations be mandated?” and the 113th “Should Title I funding be portable?”). In predictable fashion, the annual testing drama seems likely to be resolved mid-season. There are just too many key political players (e.g. Kline, Murray, Boehner, Duncan), civil rights organizations, business groups, and state leaders defending annual testing for Alexander to open the grade-span testing floodgates.

Thus, old conflicts are set to re-emerge in the coming episodes of the reauthorization drama. And none looms larger than “What is the appropriate federal role?” It’s the “We were on a break!” conflict driving the entire ESEA reauthorization plot. Continue reading

What’s Behind Door #3? The Giant Local Testing Loophole in Alexander’s ESEA Proposal

There’s been no shortage of column inches devoted to testing and the “choose your own adventure” approach in Sen. Lamar Alexander’s draft to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. And annual testing will likely dominate the discussion at the first Senate hearing on reauthorization today, even though many (including key witnesses, like Brookings’ Marty West) have already shown why backing away from annual testing is a horrible plan.

But annual testing is only half the story. That’s because Alexander’s bill doesn’t just offer two statewide testing options for policymakers to fight about. It also offers a separate testing option for districts on top of the state choices. And although education wonks are up-in-arms over the merits of door #1 vs. door #2 for states, most have, unfortunately, ignored the giant local testing loophole that is behind door #3.

Through it, districts could opt-out of statewide testing and use their own tests instead, regardless of whether Congress chooses door #1 or door #2. But the real kicker is that this loophole isn’t actually new at all. Alexander’s draft bill just makes it far easier for districts to take advantage of–and abuse–existing flexibility. 

Districts would only need state approval that their local assessments meet the same federal requirements with which state tests comply. And given the increasing number of districts pushing back on state testing, door #3 would be an irresistible option for many, even as it undermines the comparability of data between schools for evaluation and accountability; states’ abilities to provide technical assistance, support, and professional development to districts; and state investments in new assessment systems aligned to college- and career-ready standards.

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NCLB Waiver Renewal Guidance: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

In a speech to chief state school officers, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan finally unveiled guidance for states seeking to renew their waivers from No Child Left Behind, all of which (except Illinois’) are set to expire at the end of the school year. These renewal guidelines (see the official guidance and letter to states here for the nitty-gritty details) are critical, because they are the last remaining leverage point for this administration to urge states to stay the course on some of its key priorities, from college- and career-ready standards and tests to new teacher evaluation systems that take into account students’ learning. And with Duncan and Co.’s time and capacity quickly expiring, managing the implementation of waivers is one of the few big remaining items on the administration’s to-do list.

While I could go on (and on) about the finer points of the waiver renewal guidelines, here are three big takeaways—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and what they mean for NCLB waivers moving forward (if you want a longer take, check out these recaps, with reactions from the field, from Politics K-12 and Huffington Post).  

The good. Unlike the last round of waivers and waiver extensions, states will be able to get flexibility for three or even four years, in some cases (something I suggested that the Department consider). While longer waivers pose risks, especially if states are making poor choices with their newfound flexibility and seeing marginal improvement in student learning, these policy risks are outweighed by how the additional time will improve the waiver process—and possibly, the chances for a reauthorization before 2019 (seventeen years after NCLB’s passage), when the last of these new waivers could expire. In this light, it’s a win-win for everybody: baking in Duncan’s preferred policies well into the next administration’s tenure, providing states with the policy stability they’ve been craving, and giving a new administration some breathing room to develop their own policies and approaches toward reauthorization and flexibility. Continue reading