Teacher Preparation

Obama budget pushes for better training for teachers

Alternate routes to classroom get boost under budget proposal

A Capitol Hill staff member holds a copy of President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2017 federal budget after it is delivered to the House Budget Committee Room on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016.

The Obama administration is hammering for better preparation of teachers in its new budget, including more support for “innovative” pathways to the classroom.

The president’s new budget calls for school districts to develop “innovative strategies for recruiting, developing, evaluating, and retaining excellent educators,” just a month after the passage of the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, emphasized new pathways for teachers to become qualified.

If it passed, the budget would likely mean more support for alternative routes, including sped-up training programs like Teach For America and residency programs where teachers work as apprentices under master teachers while also completing coursework. They’ve been growing rapidly. The number of alternative programs nationwide increased from 70 programs in the 2000-2001 school year to 658 in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Education. These programs now make up 31 percent of all teacher preparation programs in the nation, although research has yet to show whether or not alternative routes in general create better teachers.

Some critics worry they put inexperienced teachers into classrooms before they’re ready, and the federal attention has highlighted the controversy.

Related: What high performing countries have to teach us about teacher training

Kenneth Zeichner, professor emeritus in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote in the Washington Post in December that the Every Student Succeeds Act would “support entrepreneurial programs like those funded by venture philanthropists. These include fast-track teacher education programs such as Teach For America, Relay and TNTP, which place individuals in classrooms as teachers of record before they complete certification requirements.”

Zeichner suggested the policy would send more alternative teachers to high-poverty communities, which will “widen inequities rather than reduce them.”

But Sandi Jacobs, senior vice president of state and district policy at the National Council on Teacher Quality, said while she was pleasantly surprised to see teacher preparation in the budget, it’s unlikely that the proposals will gain much traction as Obama prepares to leave office.

“I don’t think anybody thinks there’s likely to be a lot of congressional activity on the president’s proposal broadly,” Jacobs said. Still, it’s a sign of the administration’s priorities, she added. “Even if it doesn’t go anywhere, [they’re] trying to put a lasting flag in the ground.”

President Obama’s budget proposes $125 million for the Teachers and Principals Pathways program, which will be proposed in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. That program would encourage preparation programs, school districts and nonprofits to partner and create or expand “high-quality” routes to classrooms and school leadership, with an emphasis on preparing teachers for shortage areas like science and math.

Related: Data on teacher prep programs will soon lead to consequences for some programs

An additional $100 million would fund the Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) program, which is an increase of $6 million from the 2016 funding amount. That program would provide grants to national nonprofits and institutions of higher education to train teachers and principals from alternate certification or preparation programs mainly to serve in high-needs schools.

And under ESSA, already approved by Congress and signed by the president, states could create degree-granting academies for teachers to provide new routes to the classroom. After ESSA was authorized, several teacher preparation experts expressed concern that the teacher preparation provisions would lead to a proliferation of programs that are not held to the same standards or accountability methods as traditional teacher education programs.

Here are other teacher training proposals in Obama’s budget:

  • $25,000 in student loan forgivenessif teachers graduate from an effective preparation program and teach in a low-income school.
  • $24.4 billion for the U.S. Department of Education to support the initiatives in ESSA (which includes the new teacher pathways).
  • $4 billion over three years for a Computer Science for All proposal, which focuses on training more than 250,000 teachers.
  • $2.8 billion in discretionary funds for programs that support teachers “at every phase of their careers,” including teacher preparation.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.

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Jackie Mader

Jackie Mader is Mississippi bureau chief. She covers preK-12 education primarily in the rural South. Her work has appeared in the The Denver Post, the… See Archive