Press Releases & Statements

AACTE President and CEO Sharon P. Robinson Statement on U.S. Department of Education Teacher Preparation Reform Blueprint

Official AACTE Statement
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(September 30, 2011, Washington, D.C.) – The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) is pleased to have the U.S. Department of Education join us in our efforts to reform educator preparation and strengthen accountability measures through its blueprint, “Our Future, Our Teachers.” We have long held the position that preparation programs should be held accountable for the skill of their graduates, and that low-performing programs that consistently fail to deliver should be closed. You will find this reflected in our June 2011 recommendations for ESEA reauthorization. It is encouraging to hear that the Department intends to use its authority under Title II of the Higher Education Act to take action and to close those consistently low-performing programs.

AACTE was among the early supporters of the creation and use of statewide data systems that could provide feedback to preparation programs for program improvement and accountability purposes. We are pleased that the blueprint recognizes the impressive data system in Louisiana as AACTE has consistently promoted that state’s efforts to better understand the impact and quality of its preparation programs. The profession has long called for enhanced data systems in their states though most states have not been able to adequately meet the call. As our members have encountered numerous issues with state regulations, privacy laws and other obstacles, this has compelled many to go directly to the school districts they serve to develop their own agreements to follow candidates. While this momentum is encouraging, it results in randomness across state and national data systems. Building robust statewide systems that provide student performance information and link performance back to preparation programs is a tall order but one to which we are firmly committed.

We welcome Secretary Duncan’s voice joining our call for strengthening clinical preparation. Again, this has been a signature reform effort promoted by AACTE and is actually at the heart of the Department’s Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) grant program, which we have endorsed since its inception. We were pleased to see that the Department’s blueprint acknowledges this groundbreaking program, which requires strong partnerships between universities and high-need school districts and mandates a minimum of one full year of clinical preparation under an expert mentor teacher. However, we were disappointed that the Department’s budget proposal calls for this program to end. There are 40 such partnerships currently underway, where high-performing candidates are learning to teach in high-need schools and fields all around the country. Even in the private sector, clinical partnerships are seen as essential to effective preparation. The Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowships program is working with 17 institutions to support the preparation of high-quality STEM teachers, including requiring an in-depth clinical teaching component. The Department’s reform strategy would be well-served to leverage assets like the TQP grantees and Woodrow Wilson Fellows.

As Secretary Duncan has acknowledged, AACTE has been working for several years with more than 23 states and 130 colleges and universities to develop a valid and reliable Teacher Performance Assessment. We are delighted to have his support in this venture. We know that subject matter knowledge is essential, but that it is not enough to ensure quality, effective teaching. The Teacher Performance Assessment offers an in-depth measure of candidates’ performance before they are designated as the teacher of record. This assessment will result in a national data system of high quality productivity measures for educator preparation. We need to know that the teachers entering our nation’s classrooms are up to the task on Day One, and we would welcome further support by the Department for this important initiative.

Secretary Duncan has also called for the creation of the Presidential Teaching Fellows program, which we feel has many beneficial elements. However, its formation would come by way of eliminating the TEACH grant program, a mandatory spending student aid program that has provided nearly $250 million to aspiring teachers. The Presidential Teaching Fellows not only would eliminate the TEACH grants, but also decrease the amount of financial support available to individual students by almost 40 percent. TEACH grants correspond with a reform goal that the Department and countless education organizations and professionals have called for – getting top-notch teacher candidates into high-need schools and fields. Grant recipients are required to have a minimum 3.25 GPA or score in the top-25th percentile on their college admissions tests. They are also required to teach and remain in a high-needs school for a minimum of four years, helping to alleviate the immensely high turnover rates in those schools.

Currently, more than 64,000 students are beneficiaries of this financial aid that is so critical during a period of economic downturn. As of this June, 647 of the grant recipients had completed their preparation and are teaching in high-need schools and fields, with 192 new teachers in math; 81 in science; and 209 in special education, among many others.  With the new school year underway, we anticipate that hundreds more TEACH grant recipients will have begun their service obligations. As successful as the TEACH grant program has been, we would agree that tweaks could be made to make it stronger. This could include requiring that only juniors, seniors or graduate-level students already admitted to a preparation program be eligible and prohibiting low-performing schools from eligibility. However, to completely eliminate the program would be a detriment to future teachers and the PK-12 students who need them.

I am pleased to fully support the Department’s commitment to diversify the educator workforce. As noted in the blueprint, the demographics of the PreK-12 student population are not reflected in the nation’s current workforce. AACTE has made several efforts to advocate for change in this area, including calling for the Hawkins Centers for Excellence at Minority Serving Institutions to be included in the Higher Education Opportunity Act. We welcome the Department’s willingness to work with AACTE and our member institutions to secure the much-needed funding for this program.

Finally, it is important to acknowledge the Congress’ progress in acting to reform educator preparation. Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) has just introduced H.R. 2902, “The Equal Access to Quality Education Act,” which incorporates many initiatives described in the Department’s reform agenda. The bill includes a focus on placing strong candidates into high-need school districts and fields and recruiting diverse candidates into the profession, as well as an emphasis on clinical preparation and the Teacher Performance Assessment. I hope that the Department and my colleagues will endorse this important bill.

I look forward to working with peers around the nation who are committed to ensuring that teachers from all pathways to entry receive high-quality preparation and adequate support, so that all students really can have the effective teachers that they deserve.

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AACTE: Serving Learners
The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education is a national alliance of educator preparation programs dedicated to the highest quality professional development of teachers and school leaders in order to enhance PK-12 student learning. The 800 institutions holding AACTE membership represent public and private colleges and universities in every state, the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam. AACTE’s reach and influence fuels its mission of serving learners by providing all school personnel with superior training and continuing education. For more information, visit www.aacte.org.