Federal incentive program for teachers 'not working,' study finds

A federal grant program created by Congress to push high-performing college students into teaching professions is not working, according to a new report from Third Way, a Washington-based think tank.  

The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant program, created by Congress in 2007, gives students incentives to enroll in teacher training programs and commit to teaching in the nation’s highest-need schools. Students are eligible for up to $4,000 per year with a cap at $16,000. 

Using data from the Department of Education, the report released Tuesday, however, found that the program isn’t attracting students from the best teacher prep programs as planned. 

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“Programs designated 'low-performing' or 'at-risk' by the federal government doled out a combined 1,260 grants, while the country’s top performing education schools (disbursed strikingly few — only 258 this past year,” the report said. 

Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, the director of Third Way’s Social Policy & Politics Program, said the program has failed in its six short years of existence.

“The federal government has a responsibility to address the shortcomings of the TEACH grant program either by making immediate short-term fixes or, preferably, by completely reshaping the way we provide teachers with financial assistance for their student loans,” she said in a news release.

Third Way’s report comes a little over a month after the Department of Education said it was considering a new rule that would link TEACH grant funding to teacher preparation program performance. 

Under the proposed rule, a teacher preparation program will only be eligible to award TEACH grants if its state has identified the program as being “effective.” 

The public has until the end of the month to submit comments to the Education Department. 

The think tank suggested the Education Department ban low-performing teacher preparation programs from using TEACH grants as a short-term fix. 

In the long run, Third Way recommends an overhaul of the entire teacher loan forgiveness infrastructure. 

“We recommend that the federal government consolidate all of the various teacher-specific loan assistance options, including TEACH grants, into one streamlined program that would begin making monthly loan payments for every teacher for as long as he or she stays in the classroom,” the group said.