Effective teachers are less likely to teach low-income and minority students. Now, the federal government wants states to address it.
The U.S. Department of Education asked states to submit plans—by April 2015—describing how they intend to fix the situation in the wake of a recent court ruling in California.
A lawsuit, Vergara v. California, challenged the state’s teacher job protections, claiming they were in part responsible for keeping less-effective teachers in classrooms with higher numbers of low-income and minority students. Last month, the court ruled in favor of the students who sued the state.
But some are skeptical about how effective a Washington-based solution can be.
“I give the administration credit for trying to shine a light on this problem, because it’s true that low-income kids generally don’t get the most effective teachers,” said Andy Smirack, a partner at Bellwether Education Partners. “I think many people will bristle at this attempt. It looks like another D.C.-driven reform.”
Federal mandates often fail to consider the resources required to fulfill those mandates, said Lindsey Burke, Will Skillman fellow in education policy at The Heritage Foundation.
She said a section of the No Child Left Behind law—the “highly qualified teacher” provision—has “resulted in tremendous paperwork burden for school districts and individuals who would like to find their way into the classroom but have to go through more expensive certification processes, which could end up deterring them from pursuing a teaching career.”
State education agencies must “describe the steps it will take to ensure that ‘poor and minority children are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers,’” stated a letter they received Monday from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
The National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers union, released a statement in support of the plan because of the number of poor and minority students who are taught by “teachers who are uncertified … teachers teaching outside their areas of certification or teachers who are not nationally board certified.”
“Our students with the highest needs deserve more,” the statement read.
But Sandi Jacobs, vice president for the National Council on Teacher Quality, said on-paper certifications do little to indicate teacher effectiveness.
“Most research has shown that masters degrees are not a good measure at all,” she said. “They don’t correlate with teacher effectiveness at all. Most [research] shows that certification doesn’t really matter much.”
Instead, factors such as measures of student growth and classroom observations should be considered, she said, and the evaluation systems should be fair.