In July, the Obama administration announced a renewed effort to ensure high-quality teachers are equitably distributed among schools. The administration asked states to create and publish plans that detail how they will ensure disadvantaged children have access to effective teachers.
Specifically, the administration is encouraging states to revisit No Child Left Behind’s Title I requirement that states establish effective teacher access plans. Although Title I of NCLB already requires states have such plans, the new effort will incorporate data from the Office of Civil Rights to flag “states where effective teachers aren’t reaching at-risk students,” Politico reports. The department announced it will spend more than $4 million to help states implement their plans and will publish profiles of all states that show the schools and districts that retain effective teachers. As Education Week reported:
“To help states move forward, the Obama administration plans to develop a $4.2 million new “technical assistance” network—called the Educator Equity Support Network—to help states develop their plans and put them in place. The network will come up with model plans to guide states’ work, and give educators a space to swap information about how they have approached the teacher-equity problem…The administration is also planning to publish “Educator Equity” profiles in the fall, to help states get a sense of where their gaps are when it comes to equitable distribution of teachers. The profiles could include information comparing teacher experience levels, attendance rates, and qualifications at high and low poverty schools.
And the department will share states’ data files from the Civil Rights Data Collection, to help inform their analysis of where they currently stand when it comes to teacher distribution.”
This isn’t the first time the administration has pushed for the equitable distribution of teachers. President Obama’s 2013 budget blueprint included the Excellent Instructional Teams Program, which would have provided billions to states to develop teacher and principal evaluation systems. States and school district grantees would have been required to “develop meaningful plans to achieve an equitable distribution of effective teachers and leaders.” Past Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization proposals offered by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, similarly included language concerning the “equitable distribution of teachers.”
Early indications are the Department of Education’s teacher equity proposal likely will be tied to waiver renewal next year. Next spring, states will have an opportunity to request an extension of their conditions-based waivers from No Child Left Behind; the newest condition likely being that they have Department-approved effective teacher plans in place.
Although everyone agrees children should have access to effective teachers, this top-down proposal raises a host of policy questions: How are districts defining “effective” for these purposes? It appears the proposal will require states to report largely on input-based measures, such as teacher credentials, but measuring actual teacher effectiveness is a hot-button issue in many states and school districts. There are debates about whether teacher evaluations should be tied to student test scores to create “value-added” evaluations, and the extent to which more subjective measures such as classroom observations should be used. And any plan that would result in some sort of teacher redistribution raises a litany of personnel issues.
The administration’s actions come in the wake of the recent Vergara decision, in which California Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu struck down five California laws that govern the hiring and firing of teachers, laying the groundwork for principals and school leaders to have the ability to keep the most effective teachers in their classroom and to dismiss ineffective teachers.As Heritage senior legal analyst Elizabeth Slattery explained, Treu held that discrepancies in educational quality violate students’ right to equality because “grossly ineffective teachers” have a “real and appreciable” impact on the students.
Teacher quality does have a tremendous impact on student academic outcomes. But the best way to ensure students have access to quality teachers isn’t through the type of central planning teacher equity plans require; it’s through school choice. Empower parents with the ability to choose schools – and teachers – and students are far more likely to find their way to teachers that meet their unique learning needs.