Sure, this Congress has been called the “least productive in recent history” but there are some lawmakers who are intent on moving the education agenda, and have turned their attention to HEA.
You might remember HEA as part of President Johnson’s war on poverty originally passed in 1965, with a goal of expanding access to higher education for students through various financial aid programs. HEA also has an entire section dedicated to the preparation of teachers.
Just last week, Senator Harkin (D-Ia.) put forward a “discussion draft” titled the Higher Education Affordability Act. Among the 785 pages of the draft are sweeping changes to how teacher preparation programs would be held accountable.
Here’s the scoop: Under this proposal (and similar proposals being discussed within the U.S. Department of Ed), states could apply for a grant to rate teacher preparation programs based on how their program graduates impact K-12 student achievement, how happy their employers are with their performance, and if they stay in the classroom for three years. (See details below)
Then, if a program was deemed low-performing for the first year, it would have to develop and implement an improvement plan. If identified as low-performing after three consecutive years, the program would lose ability to provide TEACH Grants (financial assistant for future teachers in high-need areas, such as special ed). Finally, if a program is identified as low-performing for four consecutive years, it would close.
CEC issued a response which stated, instead of doubling down on K-12 teacher evaluation systems that are rooted in shaky research, Congress should take a more constructive approach to evaluating teacher preparation programs. Such an approach may include the use of the teacher performance assessment.
Last month, CEC’s National Legislative Conference attendees visited Congressional offices with two messages about higher education: expand opportunities for students with disabilities and engage in responsible reform of teacher preparation programs. Read CEC Issue Briefs on all issues here.
Here’s a quick overview of what’s included in Sen. Harkin’s bill (and here’s the ‘official’ summary):
- New accountability structure for teacher and principal preparation programs based on:
- how program graduates impact K-12 student learning (as demonstrated by looking at teacher evaluation systems, if they include student achievement data, or by an evidence-based measure of student growth);
- Number & percent of recent graduates who are employed as full-time teachers and are deemed ‘well-prepared’ by their employers in surveys;
- Number & percent of recent graduates who are employed as full-time teachers who identify themselves as ‘well-prepared’ in surveys;
- Number & percent of graduates who are still teaching in full-time positions after three years;
- Number & percent of graduates who are teaching in full-time positions.
- Significant focus on greater clinical preparation of teachers through residencies, mentorships, and induction programs.
- Major focus on preparing both general and special educators to meet the needs of students with disabilities.
- Maintains key grants aimed at recruiting in high-need areas such as special education: Educator Quality Partnership Grants (previously known as Teacher Quality Partnership Grants) which is expanded to include school leaders, and the TEACH Grants.
- Emphasis on supporting access to and success in postsecondary education opportunities for students with disabilities by creating technical assistance centers to facilitate transition, and making information on disability support services readily available to individuals and families.
Please note, this is a basic summary and does not include financial aid provisions of the bill. For more analysis, view Sen. Harkin’s summary here.
Also last week, in the House of Representatives members of the Education and the Workforce Committee introduced three bills – the first in a series of legislative proposals – focusing on:
- Simplifying the Application for Student Aid Act. Introduced by Reps. Larry Bucshon (R-IN), Mike Kelly (R-PA), John Tierney (D-MA), Tim Bishop (D-NY), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Ed Royce (R-CA), H.R. 4982 will reform the federal student aid process to help students make timely financial decisions about their education. To learn more about the legislation, click here.
- Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act. Introduced by Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Luke Messer (R-IN), H.R. 4983 will help students gain access to the facts they need to make an informed decision about their education. To learn more about the legislation, click here.
- Empowering Students through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act. Introduced by Reps. Brett Guthrie (R-KY) and Richard Hudson (R-NC), H.R. 4984 will promote financial literacy through enhanced counseling for all recipients of federal financial aid. To learn more about the legislation, click here.
These bills follow along the lines of the set of 4 principles for Higher Education Act reauthorization issued by the House Education and the Workforce Committee in late June:
- Empowering students and families to make informed decisions;
- Simplifying and improving student aid;
- Promoting innovation, access, and completion; and
- Ensuring strong accountability and a limited federal role.
Stay tuned as Congress continues down the path to rewrite the Higher Education Act.