Obama-era teacher preparation regulations are the latest set of rules to be placed on the Senate’s chopping block.
Congressional Republicans have moved quickly to advance legislation under the Congressional Review Act, (CRA), that would roll back the former administration’s rules in areas like environmental protection, banking regulations, telecommunications, and education.
In the education policy world, the move to scrap state accountability regulations under the Every Student Succeeds Act, (ESSA), has taken up most of the oxygen in the room. Groups like the School Superintendents Association have backed the accountability repeal, while other groups, like the right-leaning Fordham Institute have landed on the same side as civil rights groups and teacher’s unions to oppose that CRA.
The discussion over a separate repeal effort, targeting a set of teacher preparation regulations released last October, has been more muted, said Elizabeth Mann, a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy.
On Thursday, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., introduced a resolution to the Senate that would send a repeal of the teacher preparation regulations to President Trump’s desk. The House passed their version of the resolution by a nearly party-line vote in early February, (five Democrats joined a unified Republican caucus on that vote).
When Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., introduced the CRA targeting the ESSA accountability regulations, the education committee he chairs issued a press release explaining the Republican opposition, perhaps in anticipation of a contentious debate.
Mann speculates that the teacher preparation CRA may have been introduced with less fanfare because Republicans may be anticipating that “fewer people are going to go to bat on teacher prep.”
Unlike the ESSA accountability regulations, the teacher preparation rules were issued under the authority of Title II of the Higher Education Act, but the histories of how the two education-related regulations came under Congressional fire are similar, said Mann.
Both sets of regulations took heat when they were first proposed as being outside the education department’s bounds, and both sets of rules walked back some of their more controversial provisions when the final versions were released, she said. In both cases, the softened finalized rules may not have sufficiently watered down the federal education department’s reach to save them from repeal.
According to an education department release from when the teacher preparation rules were finalized, the goal of the regulations, which took years to craft, is to “bring transparency to the effectiveness of teacher preparation programs, provide programs with ongoing feedback to help them improve continuously, and respond to educators across the country who do not feel ready to enter the classroom after graduation.”
The regulations did this, said Mann, in part by pushing for evaluations of colleges and teacher accreditation programs on the basis of teacher’s abilities to create gains in student learning. Such regulations would appear to reopen the No Child Left Behind-era debates over “what is teacher effectiveness?” she said.
The subject is “full of land mines” for teachers unions who tend to oppose assessment-driven teacher evaluations, said Mann. When the regulations were first announced, the leaders of both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association took to the press to criticize the move to evaluate teacher preparation programs based on student achievement.
The American Council on Education, a Washington D.C.-based organization that advocates on behalf of many of the nation’s colleges and universities, sent a letter to Congress in tandem with other groups urging support for repeal of the teacher preparation rules.
Terry Hartle, a senior vice-president for the American Council on Education, told InsideSources that the regulations represent a massive unfunded mandate that would overburden states, colleges, and schools. He said that Obama’s education department badly lowballed the cost of compliance.
“We think they used a Ouija board,” he quipped in reference to how the department compiled the estimated cost for adherence to the regulations to affected organizations.
With little expected opposition from teachers unions and a larger fight brewing over the accountability CRA, the teacher preparation regulations appear ripe for repeal.
Once they are introduced to the Senate floor, up to ten hours of debate ensues over a CRA, and then the legislation faces an up or down vote. Republicans driving the effort only need 51 Senate votes to get the repeal proposals to the Oval Office.