The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
December 11, 2018

Using the Higher Education Act to spur change to K-12 education

December 11, 2018

The teaching profession in the United States faces several challenges, and Congress will have a chance to address some of them through the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Though the Higher Education Act does not govern K–12 education, it does affect teacher preparation programs. Challenges in teacher preparation can affect students’ ability to leave high school college or career ready. Enrollment in traditional preparation programs has declined as the economy has improved. There are persistent shortages from a macro standpoint, and there is a consistent lack of teachers for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; special education; and other persistently underfilled teaching specialties. There is also a nationwide lack of teachers of color. Federal higher education policy can have a significant impact on K–12 education through governance of teacher preparation programs.

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Title II of the Higher Education Act encompasses teacher preparation accountability programs and competitive grant programs that can be used to drive innovation. Title II currently requires state report cards, data collection and additional reporting, and state oversight of teacher preparation programs (typically relying on national accreditation organizations). Given those levers, here are three problems the Higher Education Act could help solve.

Diversity.

Research has shown the need for a high-quality, diverse teaching workforce. Our work indicates that minority-serving institutions produce most of the nation’s teachers of color. Additional federal support could be provided to these institutions through existing grant programs. Because states and districts are more acutely aware of their own needs, the federal government should use Title II dollars to leverage “Grow Your Own” teacher preparation programs that seek to fill locally identified shortages.

These programs rely mainly on clinical experiences to develop teachers and tend to be more racially diverse than traditional teacher preparation programs. Using data from New York, Boyd and colleagues find that teacher preparation that contained clinical practice led to better outcomes in the first year of teaching. In addition to supporting Grow Your Own programs, Title II can require states to include a clinical component as a requirement in traditional programs. This presents an opportunity for preparation programs to diversify the students that candidates interact with while they are preparing to be teachers.

Data.

The federal government collects data from teacher preparation programs that could be marshalled to help these programs meet local community needs. For example, states are required to report geographic and specialty shortage areas for loan forgiveness purposes. These data could be used to drive teacher preparation program creation and could also be made widely available to students in teacher preparation to help them make more informed major and career choices.

Accountability.

Several states, including Delaware, Florida, New Jersey, and New York, are already experimenting with changes to teacher preparation accountability, in part thanks to the Race to the Top competition. Race to the Top called for linking student outcomes to teacher preparation programs and made other changes to teacher preparation programs and licensure requirements.

In addition, some states have pledged to report teacher preparation candidate scores on entrance examinations and performance assessments as a part of program accountability metrics. Programs have also pledged to increase entrance and exit requirements. The increased reliance on measurable metrics of teacher preparation will be a central part of teacher preparation reform for the foreseeable future.

Research has indicated that there is there is as much variation in teacher outcomes within teacher preparation programs as there is between programs. Henry and colleagues found large differences in eventual teacher effectiveness across several teacher preparation programs in North Carolina. States should continue to receive support to produce report cards for their educator preparations programs.

Here also, the federal government could follow the lead of states that have increased accountability in terms of what preparation programs are added and what programs should close. Federal policy can also continue to provide resources that allow states to build on data systems that allow teacher preparation candidates to be linked to their eventual students’ achievement.

Leveraging Title II to meet the challenges of the teaching profession should be a concern of policymakers as they continue to think about the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Photo by Monkey Business Images/Getty Images.

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