On HEA, Congress Needs a More Ambitious Agenda to Transform and Diversify the Teaching Force

Blogs, Letters & Testimonials

February 10, 2020

It’s an open inside-the-Beltway secret that the Committees of jurisdiction in both the House and Senate want to pass a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act before the end of the year. The House passed a bill out of Committee in 2019 that most expect to come to the floor this spring and staffers in the Senate are hard at work on a bipartisan effort that we could see come to Committee in the coming months. Ten years have elapsed since the last HEA reauthorization, illustrating how rarely opportunities arise for doing big things in federal education policy. Yet—as of now—Congress isn’t going big when it comes to teachers. 

We think Congress should go much further than it has to incorporate policies into HEA that could help better compensate teachers, improve educator and school leader preparation, and diversify the teaching force. To be fair, the House bill does take (small) steps on each of these fronts. 

Firstly, on teacher compensation, the House bill would help correct the Trump Administration’s botched implementation of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) so that teachers and other public service workers can get the full loan forgiveness, after ten years of on-time payments, that they were promised under the last set of HEA amendments in 2009. 

Secondly, to improve educator and school leader preparation, the bill makes some modest improvements to the collection of data on program quality and to “Teacher Quality Partnerships” (TQP), a tiny competitive grant program that supports collaborations between preparation programs and school districts. It should be noted however that TQP has, at best, questionable history of effectiveness.

Thirdly, the bill makes a number of small tweaks to TQP and other policies designed to diversify the teaching force. Most significantly, it calls for increased funding to help improve educator preparation at minority-serving institutions, which prepare a disproportionate share of our nation’s Black and Brown educators. 

These are all positive policies that would help in recruiting, preparing, and retaining a high-quality, diverse teaching force in the coming years, but they don’t go far enough.  

Our nation must commit to the grand bargain that could transform 21st-century education: compensating, preparing, and supporting teachers on par with the immense responsibilities they have for ensuring student success in college, careers, and citizenship. A much more ambitious HEA agenda could help greatly in realizing that grand ideal, especially in three key areas: compensation, data and accountability, and innovation.

Education Reform Now supports provisions contained in the STRIVE Act (S.1886; Senators Booker, Harris, and Schatz and H.R.3139; Representatives Norcross, Pascrell, and Luján) that would make the teacher loan forgiveness program under HEA more generous, less backloaded, and better targeted to high-need schools, subjects, and specialty areas. 

These changes could help entice more high-achieving and ethnically diverse candidates to enter and stay in the profession. We also urge Congress to pay close attention to reports from the GAO and the U.S. Department of Education on how this program can be better managed and administered, especially in conjunction with TEACH scholarships and PSLF.

On the data and accountability front, we join New America, the Education Trust and others in support of changes to Title II of HEA that would help states: 1) make more and relevant data available to educator preparation programs (EPPs) and other stakeholders; 2) highlight best EPP practices; and, 3) provide supports to EPPs in need of improvement. States especially need data to understand teacher shortages and to better align the knowledge and skills of the teachers that our preparation programs produce and those that our nation’s public schools need. 

Last, but not least, HEA also provides a rare opportunity to promote improvement and innovation in educator and school leader preparation. We support the Teachers and School LEADERS Act (S.468; Senators Bennet, Cornyn, Warner, and Scott) which would expand the range of high-quality educator preparation programs eligible for Teacher Quality Enhancement Grants. 

We also urge Congress to consider changes to accreditation policies under HEA to place more emphasis on outcomes so that innovative, high-performing, non-profit EPPs outside institutions of higher education can access the same federal resources available to traditional programs at colleges and universities.

In this era of ever-increasing international competition and higher academic standards, substandard educator compensation and preparation is just as unfair to teachers as it is to students. Congress has a once-in-a-decade opportunity through HEA reauthorization to professionalize teaching and provide our nation’s students with the high-quality and diverse teaching force that they need to succeed.