Two bills approved by congress to affect education majors

By Gus Bode

Bills hoping to resolute teacher performance, encourage recruitment passed in the House Teacher_06/24_jy

Congress has laid out a new lesson plan for aspiring teachers.

In a session early this month, two bills were passed – The Ready to Teach Act and The Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act of 2003. The first bill would attempt to provide stricter exam regulations for those pursuing a degree in education. The latter bill would provide loan forgiveness to those entering certain aspects of education where there is a shortage of teachers.


The Ready to Teach Act would call for stricter regulations pertaining to the current teacher-licensure exams. Presently, flaws in the Higher Education Act, which was reauthorized in 1998, established no clear definition of the term “graduate.”

Due to this vague term, colleges were able to establish their own definition of a graduate student. Institutions chose to define the term as those who have completed all necessary coursework and had already passed licensure exams. Universities were therefore able to report a 100 percent success rate on these exams, and seemingly had no failures in their program. According to supporters of the bill, such statistics appeared desirable, but in no way provided a true reflection of the progress of students in the program.

While education professor John McIntyre said he supports changes that would illustrate a more accurate picture of performance levels of aspiring teachers, he does not see inaccurate test score data to be the widespread problem the measure would suggest.

“I think some politicians are looking for ways to punish universities,” said McIntyre, an associate dean in the college of education. “You have some universities that aren’t being honest with data. But in many states, such as Illinois, you must pass a basic skills test or you can’t even get in the program and you can’t student teach.”

The bill would make it mandatory for schools to report data from every student that has completed at least 50 percent of coursework and taken the exam, not simply those who have taken the exam and passed. The state feels such restrictions are necessary to receive a realistic vision of how potential teachers are performing on required exams.

Data will then be collected and used to make a report card showing performance levels of these programs. Institutions that do not meet performance standards on these tests would risk losing federal student aid. Colleges that fail to report data would face a fine as great as $25,000.

According to McIntyre, the required basic skills test, given as an entrance exam, helps to assure that only qualified individuals are permitted into the program from the start. This fact, in his opinion, explains the high level of success institutions see on licensure exams.


” [The bill] won’t change much of anything,” McIntyre said. “Our success rate is almost 100 percent, and maybe it will be about 85 percent now.

“They want to guarantee that students have command of content which is what we’re doing anyway.”

Mary Wright, director of undergraduate programs for math at SIUC, said she is satisfied with the ability level of SIUC students pursuing a teaching degree in mathematics.

“Aside from coursework, there is a content exam you have to pass if you want to teach,” Wright said. “And I don’t know of anyone who passed all of the coursework but didn’t pass the exam, at least in math.”

“I’d be cautious to say that this applies to everyone, but at least at SIUC we make sure that everyone with the degree is qualified.”

The bill to tighten restrictions on soon-to-be teachers was not the only bill introduced at the beginning of this month. The second bill proposed and approved during the June 4 session aimed not to provide repercussions, but to reward those pursuing a degree in certain aspects of education.

The Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act of 2003 would increase the amount of loan forgiveness to those planning to teach in the areas of mathematics, science and special education. The bill would increase forgiveness from $5,000 to a possible $17,500 for those entering these fields.

“We’re having a hard time attracting people especially in the sciences, engineering and physics,” said David Wilson, associate dean and director of the graduate school. “It’s hard because a lot of people with talents in these areas usually go on to higher-paying jobs.

“We need more people who have the confidence to teach in these areas. It’s not that these people aren’t working hard enough. They simply don’t have the background.”

Representatives agree the bill would provide positive incentives for individuals pursuing a career in areas where there is a shortage of teachers. However, there is slight disagreement concerning provisions that some believe should be added to the measure.

Democrats argued for additions to the bill that would extend loan forgiveness to those planning to teach reading or work in low-income schools such as Head Start. Members of the party saw this as a reasonable solution to recruit more people to teach the fundamental skill. However, many Republicans were determined to stick only to areas where the shortage was the greatest, and requests for additional provisions were therefore defeated.

Reporter Jessica Yorama can be reached at [email protected]