Last week, President Trump signed a bill passed by Congress to scrap the Obama administration’s new regulations for teacher preparation. In blocking the regulations, the bill put an end to the controversial requirement that states issue annual ratings for teacher training programs based on criteria such as how long graduates stay in the teaching profession and the graduates’ impact on student-learning outcomes. Regulations can be powerful tools for torquing the priorities of local institutions. But they can also constrain institutions’ abilities to innovate. Given these two sides of regulation, will overturning the teacher preparation regulations lead to progress or stagnation in teacher quality?

Other policies for regulating teacher preparation—such as teacher licensure requirements and institutional accreditation—often hinder innovation more than they help to improve quality. The common shortcoming of these policies is that they focus on inputs—such as curriculum, faculty credentials, and student teaching hours. Overly-prescriptive input requirements stymie innovations that do not square with traditional approaches. In contrast, smart regulations allow latitude in inputs and instead focus on measuring and rewarding quality outcomes.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s decision to deregulate these institutions is likely a step backward for teacher preparation. In contrast with other policies, the federal regulations were noteworthy for their emphasis on outcomes rather than inputs. Although requiring states to rate teacher preparation programs based on the impact of their graduates may have proved cumbersome and expensive to implement, it was a step in the right direction. Institutions evolve to address the challenges we hire them to solve, and rating teacher preparation programs based on the track records of their graduates would have sharpened their focus on teacher quality challenges.

But the overturn of the federal regulations does not have to spell the end to progress at the state level. Anticipating the overturn of the regulations, Education Week reported that many states and teacher preparation programs still intend to move forward with the plans they created in anticipation of the new federal regulations. More recently, Education Week described how the state of Missouri and the teachers college at Arizona State University plan to continue their efforts to focus on outcomes.

Still, doubling down on a commitment to outcomes is just the tip of the iceberg of improving teacher preparation. From there, institutions will need to modernize their business models to meet those outcomes. Absent new business models, regulations that emphasize accountability for outcomes will likely only lead to marginal improvements. Schools of education can only go so far if they try to reach new outcomes within the confines of their existing business models. Established institutions of all stripes find it hard to challenge the status quo in ways that radically alter their basic resources, processes, and revenue models.

In order to germinate dramatic innovations that go beyond incremental tweaks to the traditional teacher preparation model, states need to add a second prong to their teacher preparation strategy. They need to dedicate new funding streams to disruptive innovations that fall outside the domain of accredited teacher preparation.

For example, Tennessee is piloting a new approach for coaching novice teachers and awarding them micro-credentials for demonstrating competence in particular aspects of teaching. Along the same lines, BloomBoard, an online development platform for teachers, has partnered with four universities to allow teachers who complete micro-credentials to earn graduate-level credit. These efforts may seem far afield from reforming teacher preparation, but their experimental approaches to competency-based training could prove to be key features in the top-notch teacher preparation models of tomorrow.

Study after study confirms that teachers are the single greatest factor determining student academic achievement. As a result, states should not wait for the federal government to compel them to strengthen their teacher preparation programs. Instead, they should seize the opportunity created by the overturn of the federal regulations to be agents unto themselves in improving the quality of their new teachers. By taking a two-pronged approach that focuses on improving the outcomes of existing programs, while also incubating innovative teacher development outside the traditional system, states will put themselves on the right track to have a strong teaching force today and an exemplary teaching force tomorrow.

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  • Thomas Arnett
    Thomas Arnett

    Thomas Arnett is a senior research fellow for the Clayton Christensen Institute. His work focuses on using the Theory of Disruptive Innovation to study innovative instructional models and their potential to scale student-centered learning in K–12 education. He also studies demand for innovative resources and practices across the K–12 education system using the Jobs to Be Done Theory.