Duncan: Rate teacher ed programs

States will be required to rate teacher training programs on job placement, retention rates and their graduates’ success in raising student achievement, under a new Education Department proposal. Low-rated programs’ students wouldn’t be able to get federal TEACH Grants to pay for their training.

Although the rules do not require tests, 42 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have agreed with the Department of Education to develop teacher performance ratings that include test scores.

Critics, including teachers’ unions, say such measures are unreliable and difficult to link to the quality of training.

“New teachers want to do a great job for their kids, but often, they struggle at the beginning of their careers” because they’re not well-prepared for the classroom, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

“After prolonged negotiations—with stakeholders including teachers’ unions and teacher colleges—failed to bear fruit, the Obama administration said it would move ahead on its own,” reports Emily Richmond in The Atlantic.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, criticized the regulations’ reliance on test scores. “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.

Earlier this month the National Council on Teacher Quality lambasted teacher education programs a report titled Easy A’s. Would-be teachers can earn high grades for undemanding work, leaving them poorly prepared for classroom challenges, charges NCTQ.

The proposal is in line with the Obama administration’s “gainful employment” rule, which tries to regulates job training programs at for-profit career colleges (and community colleges), notes Stephen Sawchuk on Ed Week. “It signals the agency’s intent to try to hold higher education more accountable for outcomes.”

College aid for dropouts?

High school dropouts with college-ready skills lost access to federal student aid in 2012. Now there’s bipartisan support for restoring “ability to benefit” aid for people seeking job skills. Most employers have ceded job training to community and for-profit colleges. There are few non-college paths to a skilled or semi-skilled jobs.

In a Washington Post story on “disconnected” youth — not working or in school — a mentor advises an unemployed parolee who left high school at 14 to take a U.S. history class that could earn him college credits. Doesn’t this guy, who’s trying support a nine-year-old son, need job skills?

Beyond the skills gap

Job training has moved from employers to colleges, but job seekers often can’t get student aid for short-term programs and can’t “stack” their credentials to move up the job ladder.

Student aid funds most job training

Most federal support for job training flows through college aid, not workforce development programs.

Should religious colleges lose accreditation?

Religious colleges don’t deserve accreditation because they “systematically undermine . . . skeptical and unfettered inquiry,” argues Peter Conn, a professor of education and English at Penn in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Without accreditation, students wouldn’t be eligible for federal loans or grants.

Conn singles out Wheaton College in Illinois, the “Harvard of evangelical education” for asking faculty to sign a statement of faith.

David Coleman, who runs College Board and helped write Common Core standards, defends the academic excellence of Wheaton and other religious colleges in National Review.

We have institutions in the Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, and Jewish traditions that all live their identities in diverse ways and bring valuable resources to bear on students’ academic, personal, and civic development. If students want to further both their intellectual and spiritual development at an accredited religious institution, if they feel they will learn best in that kind of setting, if they want to be part of a community that has a faith tradition (often not their own), they should have that option, with federal aid. It’s a wonderful thing and a source of strength that we have religious diversity among our institutions of higher education.

Alan Jacobs, a Baylor professor, found academic freedom when he taught at Wheaton, he writes on The New Atlantis:

My interests were in the intersection of theology, religious practice and literature — a very rich field, but one that in most secular universities I would have been strongly discouraged from pursuing except in a corrosively skeptical way.

Is Conn naive enough to think Penn, where he teaches, is a “value-neutral” institution? asks Jacobs.

But as Stanley Fish pointed out years ago, “What, after all, is the difference between a sectarian school which disallows challenges to the divinity of Christ and a so-called nonideological school which disallows discussion of the same question? In both contexts something goes without saying and something else cannot be said (Christ is not God or he is). There is of course a difference, not however between a closed environment and an open one but between environments that are differently closed.”

“Wheaton is differently closed than Penn,” writes Jacobs. “For the people who teach there and study there, that difference is typically liberating rather than confining.”

Report: Fed aid drives up college costs

Federal student aid hasn’t helped lower-income students go to college, concludes a report by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. Instead, federal aid has enabled colleges to raise tuition.

Simplifying student aid

A two-question postcard would replace the 108-question Free Application for Financial Aid (Fafsa) under a bipartisan bill proposed in the Senate. Students would get an estimate of their financial aid eligibility before they apply to colleges.

Pell aid goes up, but so does tuition

The near-doubling of Pell Grant funding hasn’t decreased borrowing by low-income students, who are supposed to be the beneficiaries. States have cut funding and colleges have raised tuition using federal aid to make up the difference.

For-profits offer flexibility — at a price

For-profit colleges charge $35,000 on average for an associate degree, on average, more than four times the cost at the average community college. Why does anyone choose a for-profit college? Students cite flexibility and convenience. Most use federal student aid to pay the bills.

Colleges rattled by Obama’s rating plans

President Obama’s college rating proposal has “rattled” college presidents, who fear it will be simplistic and misleading. It didn’t help when a top education official said it would be “like rating a blender.”

Obama wants Congress to link student loans and grants to college ratings, which will be based on graduation rates, student debt, graduates’ earnings and other factors. Highly selective universities are likely to do very well, but most students can go to college only if they can afford a not-very-selective or open-admissions college or university.