The Obama administration will announce plans on Monday to enforce a long-ignored federal mandate: a decade-old requirement that states give students of all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds equal access to good teachers.
The new initiative, called “Excellent Educators for All,” aims to bring states into compliance with a teacher equity mandate in the No Child Left Behind Act, the George W. Bush-era law that requires states to reward and punish schools based on standardized test scores.
There are three parts to the effort: By April 2015, states must submit “comprehensive educator equity plans” that detail how they plan to put “effective educators” in front of poor and minority kids. To help states write the plans, the Education Department will create a $4.2 million “Education Equity Support Network.” And this fall, the Education Department will publish “Educator Equity profiles” that highlight which states and districts fare well or poorly on teacher equity.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will announce the changes Monday at a roundtable with teachers and President Barack Obama. The White House is framing the initiative as the latest of Obama’s executive actions to circumvent congressional gridlock.
It’s not yet clear, though, exactly how the department will hold states accountable for all this planning — and ultimately produce changes in classrooms. When asked about this issue at a White House press briefing Monday, Duncan said, “We’ll look at this as a piece of many things.”
The department’s initial press release on the effort also did not specify how it will define “effective” teachers.
The No Child Left Behind Act includes language requiring states to “ensure that poor and minority students are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers.”
But this mandate has never been consistently enforced. In 2006, the Bush administration required states to submit plans detailing how they would comply with the law, but few changes followed.
The idea of forcing teachers to work in specific schools has rankled unions, and even education advocates are hesitant to put a reluctant teacher, regardless of how objectively good he or she is, in front of the neediest students.
As a result, the problem the law sought to tackle is still dire: Students in high-poverty schools, a national survey has shown, are twice as likely to have their most important classes taught by teachers without proper certification. And federal data shows that minority students’ teachers on average have less experience than the teachers of their wealthier peers.
“Systemic inequities exist that shortchange students in high-poverty, high-minority schools across our country,” Duncan said. “We have to do better.”
Obama addressed the new policy in remarks before his lunch with teachers.
“We have a problem in which the kids who need the most skilled teachers are the least likely to get them,” he said. The new initiative is “going to be a program in which we ask states to take a look at where they’re distributing great teachers, what are they doing in order to train and promote and place teachers in some of the toughest environments for children. … If we do nothing, if we don’t highlight the problem, then inevitably the kids who probably need less help get the most, and the kids who need the most help are getting the least.”
Advocates and state school chiefs have been waiting for promised enforcement of the teacher equity requirement.
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