ESSA and Teacher Education
This is Part Six in a nine part series of a conversation between NPE Action President Diane Ravitch and Senator Lamar Alexander’s Chief of Staff, David P. Cleary. You can access the entire series here.
How will teacher education be affected by ESSA? Does the law enable non-traditional institutions to award degrees to teachers, i.e., “graduate” schools that have no faculty with advanced degrees, like Match and Relay? Does it encourage alternative routes like Teach for America? What happened to the idea that all students should have “highly qualified teachers”?
Highly Qualified Teachers
The new law removes the requirement that all teachers of core academic subjects be “highly qualified” as defined under No Child Left Behind. Instead, states will be responsible for ensuring that teachers meet applicable state teacher licensure and certification requirements. The requirements to be a teacher in a state will be up to that state, with no additional federal requirements.
The new federal law doesn’t make changes to state laws on teacher certification or requirements for institutions of higher education. Those are decisions left up to the states.
A state can reserve up to 5 percent of the money that comes to the state under the Title II formula program for state activities related to teachers and principals.
The law does allow states to use some of the funding they receive under Title II to be used to improve teacher preparation or education within the state, but with no federal requirements or restrictions on what a state decides to do.
States are allowed use these funds in many ways. For example, they could use funds to develop teacher residency programs, where teachers simultaneously take coursework in an institution of higher education and teach alongside another teacher for at least a year. States could also use these dollars to reform teacher, principal, or other school leader certification, recertification, licensing, or tenure systems or preparation program standards and approval processes.
Additionally, a state could choose some of the funds they reserved at the state level to establish or expand teacher, principal, or other school leader preparation academies, like Relay or Match, if allowable under state law. It is a state choice, and those decisions will be made at the state level.
The bill also allows states to use federal funds to establish, improve, or expand alternative routes to certification, so programs like Teach for America can continue if they are currently allowed in a state.
But the key here is that all of these decisions are left to the state to figure out. While the new law includes lots of examples of things the state or district could do, none of them are required at the state or local level.
In Section 2101(c)(4)(B) of the new law we have a list of 20 types of things that states can do with their reservation of funds, and then a catch-all in clause (xxi) that reads:
“(xxi) Supporting other activities identified by the State that are, to the extent the State determines such evidence is reasonably available, evidence-based and that meet the purpose of this title.”
This means that the state can do pretty much whatever it wants to do with the federal funds from this program.
There is similar language in Section 2103(b)(3)(P) of the new law that allows local school districts to do whatever they want to do with their federal funds from this program.