Obama Administration Fails to Require Equal Distribution of Well-Qualified Teachers

A new study by Mathematica Policy Research demonstrates that experienced teachers matter.  Reporting on the study for Slate, Dana Goldstein points out that teachers who earned a $20,000 bonus to move to a struggling school and who significantly improved school achievement in the elementary schools to which they moved, “were far from the Teach for America archetype of a young, transient, Ivy League grad.  Their average age was 42, and they had an average of 12 years of experience in the classroom.  They were also more likely than control group teachers to be African-American, to be homeowners, and to hold a master’s degree.  In short, they were stable adults with deep ties to the cities in which they worked.”

It is therefore troubling that the Obama Administration is failing to insist that children in the poorest neighborhoods have access to well-qualified teachers.  In Obama Administration Backtracks (Again) on Teacher Equity, Tara Kini, senior staff attorney at Public Advocates, a non-profit law firm that has led a coalition of national organizations to advocate for the right of the children in poverty, children with special needs, or children learning English to well qualified teachers, describes three ways the Obama Administration has failed to pursue such a goal.

First Arne Duncan’s Department of Education has done little “to enforce any teacher equity protections in the initial round of (No Child Left Behind) waivers.”  The Department’s new guidance for renewing the waivers gives states applying for a two-year waiver extension an additional two years even to submit an initial plan for ensuring equitable access to qualified teachers.

Second, President Obama recently signed a renewal of what is known as the Teach-for-America exemption.  Congress slipped into the budget deal a renewal of a controversial provision that names as “highly qualified teachers” those recruits in five week alternative certification programs.  Federal law continues to protect teachers-in-training by treating them as though they are fully credentialed.

And third, in 2012, Congress asked the Department of Education to collect data and submit a report to Congress by December of 2013 to document exactly where teachers-in-training, those being labeled “highly qualified,” are teaching. Congress’s purpose in requesting the report was to determine whether inexperienced, alternatively-certified teachers are being concentrated in the schools that serve “low-income, English-learner, special education and rural students.”  The Department of Education balked for nearly a year, “waiting until September 2013 even to begin the process of collecting the data.  As a result, Congress—and the public—will have to wait another year for this report.”

A new, December 2013 report, Excellent Teachers for Each and Every Child: A Guide for State Policy from the Opportunity to Learn Campaign and six other national organizations declares that the distribution of experienced, well-qualified teachers is doubly important as school segregation by race and economic inequality continues to intensify across our nation’s big cities:

“While the U.S. population overall has become more diverse, local public schools have grown more segregated than they were a half-century ago.  In many districts, especially in urban centers, a large proportion of students of color live in impoverished neighborhoods and attend schools that are primarily Black or Latino.  The re-segregation of our schools, once a distant worry, is now an established fact.  This should concern all of us because public schools in low-income communities tend to draw less experienced and less qualified teachers, face higher rates of teacher turnover….  State education policies must reflect a clear understanding of the cultural, social, linguistic and economic connections between communities and pubic schools—and ensure that educators and schools are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and professional resources to support all students.”

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