Higher Education Act Reauthorization Cleared: Gains for Psychology — July 2008

HR 4137, the Higher Education Opportunity Act — the bill reauthorizing the Higher Education Act of 1965, was passed by large majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate on July 31, 2008 and is waiting at the White House for the President's signature. Below you will find updates on areas of interest to members of the American Psychological Association.

Accreditation

The Education Directorate's Office of Program Consultation and Accreditation, under the leadership of Susan Zlotlow, PhD was heavily involved in the reauthorization process by helping to educate House and Senate staff about accreditation. These efforts ensured that HR 4137 included language that maintains the integrity and independence of the accreditation process. Much attention was paid to the topic of accreditation during this Higher Education Act reauthorization due in large part to efforts by the Department of Education to intrude upon the independence of accrediting agencies and institutions in the accreditation process. Many changes in the legislation were tempered or changed (and in some cases improved) thanks to strong advocacy efforts championed by the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors or ASPA in coordination with other higher education associations. For more information on specific provisions related to accreditation, please read the recent update by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation.

Teacher Quality

The final legislation includes APA's definition for "teaching skills" with minor modifications. This definition is contained within Title II, Teacher Quality Enhancement, of the legislation. In general, this Title of the bill provides support to Institutions of Higher Education in partnership with other entities that train teachers in an effort to improve the pre-service educational opportunities for those prospective teachers.

It is a small part of an enormous volume of legislative language, but it is important for a number of reasons. This definition applies to all programs within Title II and the term itself is used throughout the Title (16 times). The term is often paired with the term, "content knowledge." It ensures that greater consideration and required resources will be given to teaching the critical skills needed to deliver important content knowledge to students. Further, it recognizes the important contributions that psychology makes to teaching and learning. While a small step, it is one that acknowledges on the federal level the connection between psychology and improving educational opportunities for our nation's students.

In addition, APA was successful in having "schools or department that focus on psychology or human development" included as eligible partners in the Teacher Quality Partnership Grants program.

TEACHING SKILLS.-The term 'teaching skills' means skills that enable a teacher to-"(A) increase student learning, achievement, and the ability to apply knowledge; "(B) effectively convey and explain academic subject matter; "(C) effectively teach higher-order analytical, evaluation, problem-solving, and communication skills; "(D) employ strategies grounded in the disciplines of teaching and learning that- "(i) are based on empirically-based practice and scientifically valid research, where applicable, related to teaching and learning; "(ii) are specific to academic subject matter; and "(iii) focus on the identification of students' specific learning needs, particularly students with disabilities, students who are limited English proficient, students who are gifted and talented, and students with low literacy levels, and the tailoring of academic instruction to such needs; "(E) conduct an ongoing assessment of student learning, which may include the use of formative assessments, performance-based assessments, project-based assessments, or portfolio assessments, that measures higher-order thinking skills (including application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation); "(F) effectively manage a classroom, including the ability to implement positive behavioral interventions and support strategies; "(G) communicate and work with parents, and involve parents in their children's education; and "(H) use, in the case of an early childhood educator, age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate strategies and practices for children in early childhood education programs.

Loan Forgiveness for Psychologists

The final bill includes a new discretionary loan forgiveness program entitled, Loan Forgiveness for Service in Areas of National Need. Mental health professionals are eligible to participate in this program. Mental health professionals, for the purposes of this program are defined as "the individual has not less than a master's degree in social work, psychology or psychiatry and is employed full-time providing mental health services to students, adolescents, or veterans." Psychologists practicing in other areas may be eligible for benefits through other categories including possibly "public sector employees" and "child welfare workers." A recipient could receive $2,000 of an outstanding loan forgiven for each year employed in a specified field, with a maximum amount forgiven of $10,000. The funds for this program are subject to appropriations and will be made on a first-come, first-served, basis. Further details and regulations will be established by the Department of Education after the bill becomes law.