Higher Education:

Activities Underway to Improve Teacher Training, but Reporting on These Activities Could Be Enhanced

GAO-03-6: Published: Dec 11, 2002. Publicly Released: Dec 11, 2002.

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Cornelia M. Ashby
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In 1998, Congress amended the Higher Education Act (HEA) to enhance the quality of teaching in the classroom by improving training programs for prospective teachers and the qualifications of current teachers. This report focuses on two components of the legislation: one that provides grants and another, called the "accountability provisions," that requires collecting and reporting information on the quality of all teacher training programs and qualifications of current teachers.

The Department of Education has approved or awarded 123 grants to states and partnerships totaling over $460 million. Education awarded grants to applicants according to the legislation, but failed to maintain an effective system for communicating with grantees. Grantees have used funds for activities they believe will improve teaching in their locality or state. While HEA allows many activities to be funded under broad program goals outlined in the legislation, most grantees have focused their efforts on reforming requirements for teachers, providing professional development to current teachers, and recruiting new teachers. The extent to which these activities will affect the quality of teaching in the classroom will be difficult to determine because Education does not have a systematic approach to evaluate all grant activities. The information collected as part of the accountability provisions did not allow Education to accurately report on the quality of teacher training programs and the qualifications of current teachers in each state. The accountability provisions require all institutions that enroll students who receive federal student financial assistance and train teachers to provide information to their states on their teacher training programs and program graduates. In order to facilitate the collection of this information, HEA required Education to develop definitions for terms and uniform reporting methods. Education officials told GAO that they made significant efforts to define these terms so that the terms reflected the uniqueness of teacher training programs, state reporting procedures, and data availability. In doing so, Education defined some terms broadly. The officials also told GAO that this gave states and institutions discretion to interpret some terms as they wished, resulting in the collection and reporting of information that was not uniform and thereby making it difficult to assess accountability.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: House reconciliation bill (H 2669) for fiscal year 2008 does not include any funding for teacher quality enhancement (TQE) state grants. Instead, it proposes $50 million for eligible institutions to ensure that current and future teachers are highly qualified. The Senate reconciliation act, which is out of committee, also does not include any funding for TQE grants. According to Hill staff and Department of Education budget official, it is very unlikely that funds for these grants will be reinstated in the final reauthorized Higher Education bill.

    Matter: If Congress decides to continue funding teacher quality enhancement grants in the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, it may wish to clarify whether all 59 states will be eligible for state grant funding under the reauthorization or whether eligibility would be limited to only those states that have not previously received a state grant. If Congress decides to limit eligibility to states that have not previously received a state grant, it may wish to consider changing the funding allocation for state grants.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Education (ED) made changes to address deficiencies in communication and improve communication with grantees and potential applicants. For example, the agency presented workshops to prospective grantees, put more information on its web site and is preparing guidance on grant management and performance. The agency also met with project directors. In 2003, Teacher Quality Enhancement (TQE) program grantees were informed about reporting deadlines and priorities for the program through monitoring communications and an "all grantees" meeting. During the meeting, ED staff and TQE program officers presented information on reporting requirements, ED's policies and priorities on teacher quality, and time lines. Grantees also shared successful and unsuccessful project practices. In addition, the program web site has been updated and expanded with information about program activities, grant abstracts, report forms, and other teacher quality resources. More expansions to the TQE web site are in progress, including links to individual project sites.

    Recommendation: In order to effectively manage the grant program, the Secretary of Education should further develop and maintain a system for regularly communicating program information, such as reporting deadlines and successful and unsuccessful practices.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Education (ED) has taken steps to strengthen evaluation of Title II and other discretionary grant programs administered by the Office of Postsecondary Education by establishing performance measures for the state and partnership grants and required grantees to provide these data in their annual performance plans submitted to Education. In 2006, Education provided guidance to grantees on evaluation efforts through its grantee letters for the recruitment, state, and partnership grants.

    Recommendation: To provide information about the effectiveness of grant activities, the Secretary of Education should establish a systematic approach for evaluating all grant activities, including providing guidance to grantees on the types of information needed to determine effectiveness.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Education aligned the Higher Education Act's Title II data collection system with the No Child Left Behind (NLCB) Act Title II definitions of "waivers" and "highly qualified teacher" to reduce the burden on states in reporting on teachers and their qualifications. These changes were approved by OMB in June 2003 and implemented for the institutional data collection cycle that began in October 2003. States were given final written guidance on the new data requirements in August 2004. However, states had previously received general information about the change during the OMB paperwork burden approval process. States were expected to report data to the Secretary in FY 2005. In addition, the HEA Title II system technical service center provides guidance to states on an ongoing basis and is trained to discuss the new requirements, should a state have any questions.

    Recommendation: To improve the information collected under the accountability provisions, the Secretary of Education should define key terms from the legislation clearly.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Education has implemented procedures to validate reported data by comparing it to prior years' reports. Also, the Department has put in place electronic edit checks to ensure that at least 95 percent of reported data are accurate and complete.

    Recommendation: To improve the information collected undr the accountability provisions, the Secretary of Education should allow sufficient time for verification of the required information.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education


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