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Teacher Training and Federal K-12 and Higher Education Programs

There is little coordination between federal K-12 and higher education programs charged with teacher training, even though such efforts could improve education for poor and minority students in low-quality public schools, a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee was told Thursday.

Both the Higher Education Act and the No Child Left Behind Act fund separate teacher education and improvement programs but with different rules and approaches, said George A. Scott, director of education, workforce and income security issues at the U.S. General Accountability Office. “It’s not clear to the extent these programs complement each other, and not much is known about how these laws are aligned,” he said.

Higher Education Act programs mainly support prospective teachers through one-time competitive grants, while NCLB provides annual formula funding based on student counts, he said.

Yet there is a “unique opportunity” in 2007 to build bridges between these initiatives, said U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Tex., chair of the House Higher Education, Lifelong Learning and Competitiveness Subcommittee, which held the hearing. Both NCLB and the Higher Education Act are up for renewal in Congress this year, with lawmakers likely to seek changes in both statutes. “Clearly there is room for improvement,” Hinojosa said.

While lawmakers and witnesses cited several potential improvements, a common theme was better training of teachers to work with English Language Learners, special education students and low-income youth.

Only about 13 percent of teachers have received at least eight hours of training to work with English Language Learners, Hinojosa said. He also voiced concern about lagging teacher quality at many schools with large concentrations of minority students.

In addition to improving teacher skills in low-income schools, policymakers must do more to ensure that the teaching profession “reflects the diversity of our schools,” he added.

Schools of education are changing their approaches as needed to help improve the content knowledge and skills of prospective teachers, said Dr. Sharon P. Robinson, president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. “There is considerable work to be done,” she said. “But we are not standing still.”

Many of these improvements focus on better use of data and new methods to work with ELL and special education students, she said.

Another promising approach for schools of education is working with inner-city school districts on teacher training. With the city of Detroit, Michigan State University has an urban teaching program in which students focus specifically on at-risk students and perform their student teaching in such an environment.

So far, the initiative is developing a cadre of teachers enthusiastic about working with at-risk youth, says Daniel Fallon, program director at the Carnegie Corp., which is supporting the effort. With increasing student enrollment, “It’s been one of the big growth areas at Michigan State,” he says.

–Charles Dervarics

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