DC Shuttle: A Little RESPECT for Teachers?

A new $5 billion Education Department program aims to improve teacher training and career paths. The Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching (RESPECT) project encourages states and districts to work with teachers and education colleges to reform teacher training, compensation and professional development. Education Secretary Arne Duncan introduced the program, part of President Obama’s FY2013 budget proposal, on Wednesday. The program represents the latest in a series of competitive grant programs designed to encourage states and districts to implement reforms favored by the Education Department. Priorities for the RESPECT project include higher admission standards for teaching colleges, linking teacher compensation and tenure to student achievement and implementing incentives like higher pay to keep the best teachers at otherwise difficult-to-staff schools.

On Thursday, House Education and Workforce Committee Chair John Kline (R-MN) held a hearing on two pieces of legislation he introduced last week to replace portions of the No Child Left Behind Law. The Student Success Act (H.R. 3989) would allow states to replace federal achievement standards and standardized tests with their own. The Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act (H.R. 3990) would revoke federal requirements for teacher qualification and allow states and districts to establish their own teacher-quality tests and metrics. Congressman Kline contrasted his proposals’ wide flexibility for states to use federal funding however they wish and develop their own teacher-evaluation systems against the administration’s proposals for legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as a “one-size-fits-all federal accountability system.” Other Republican committee members praised the bill for moving away from a “teach to the test” mentality by allowing states more freedom to tailor standards to their unique student populations. Democrats and some witnesses expressed concern at the bills’ lack of accountability measures, which they say would allow some states to continue without real impetus for reform. President of the Council of Chief State School Officers Tom Luna argued that the common core initiative is one example of schools driving improvement without federal mandates. Other provisions which received heavy criticism were the removal of a federal requirement to assess science learning and a cap on funding for English language learners.

On Thursday, a group of Senate Democrats led by Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) introduced legislation (S. 2116) to remove the incentive for for-profit colleges to pursue veterans and active-duty members of the military over concerns about abuses in the sector. Currently, for-profit colleges may receive a maximum of 90% their revenue from federal sources, not including Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and Defense Department tuition benefits. Sen. Carper’s bill would include those military benefits in the 90% maximum. Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) also introduced a companion bill in the House. Both measures are similar to bills introduced last year by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) which would have included military benefits under federal aid and reduced the maximum percent of revenue to 85. Heavy Republican opposition means that neither bill is expected to advance very far.

As a member of New England Council, we publish the DC Shuttle each week featuring higher ed news from Washington. This edition is drawn from the Council’s Weekly Washington Report Higher Education Update, of Feb. 20, 2012.

Founded in 1925, the New England Council is a nonpartisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth and a high quality of life in the New England region. The Council’s mission is to identify and support federal public policies and articulate the voice of its membership regionally and nationally on important issues facing New England. For more information, please visit: www.newenglandcouncil.com.


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