U.S. Education Dept. seeks to improve teacher prep programs

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By Kimberly Hefling - AP Education Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Obama administration, seeking to improve teaching even before teachers enter the classroom, is proposing new rules that would penalize teacher-training programs that turn out ill-prepared graduates.

Under the rules proposed Tuesday, only training programs deemed to be working well would be eligible to receive money from federal TEACH grants given to prospective teachers who agree to teach in disadvantaged schools. Factors considered include a training program's success in placing its graduates in jobs, and the success of a teacher's students on standardized tests.

The TEACH grant program pays up to $4,000 a year to students, and about $100 million is awarded nationwide each year.

"New teachers want to do a great job for their kids, but often they struggle at the beginning of their careers and have to figure out too much for themselves," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.

Schools complain that linking the performance of graduates and their students to the teacher's alma mater is unfair, and teachers' unions say it could potentially make it harder to place teachers in schools in high-poverty areas.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the rules use a "test-and-punish" model instead of offering a sustainable solution that raises the bar for the teaching profession.

"Teacher-preparation programs that send graduates to teach in high-need schools, where research shows the test scores are likely to be lower and the teacher turnover higher, will receive lower ratings and could lose funding," Weingarten said in a statement.

Deborah Koolbeck of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education worries that federal regulations could curb innovation aimed at making teacher training more rigorous. She said her association hasn't yet seen the proposed regulations.

Programs that train teachers already face growing pressure from states and an accrediting body to bolster admissions requirements and enhance student teaching. But Duncan said most states don't even try to identify subpar teacher education programs.

The department has sought for years to issue such regulations.

The administration said it will start collecting data to implement the new rules in two years, with full implementation coming in the 2020-2021 school year.