Coalition to Duncan: Stop backtracking on teacher equity

A coalition of 95  civil rights, disability, parent, student, community and education organizations has sent the following letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan expressing deep concerns about what they see as the department’s backtracking on ensuring that the country’s neediest childrenhave access to highly qualified teachers as part of the process of renewing waivers to No Child Left Behind.

 

Here’s the text of the letter (complete with footnotes which I have removed from the body of the text and put at the end of the letter):

December 16, 2013

Honorable Arne Duncan
Secretary
United States Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington D.C., 20202

RE: ESEA FLEXIBILITY RENEWAL GUIDANCE

Dear Secretary Duncan:

As organizations committed to ensuring that every child has equal access to a fully-prepared and effective teacher, we write to share our concerns with the Department of Education’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Flexibility Renewal Guidance and accompanying documents, including your Letter to Chief State School Officers dated November 14, 2013.

The Coalition for Teaching Quality (CTQ) consists of 95 national, state, and local organizations committed to the principle that federal policy must ensure that all students have access to teachers and school leaders who enter the profession well-prepared to succeed and who prove themselves effective once there. Together, we represent a diverse spectrum of civil rights, disability, parent, student, community, educator, and education policy organizations.

We know that access to good teachers is the most important school-level factor influencing student achievement. We also know that, by any measure of teaching quality (e.g., certification status, test scores, experience, certification or major in subject matter, effectiveness), it is the highest-need students who are least likely to have access to these teachers.

One of the most far-reaching provisions in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was the requirement that “poor and minority children are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers.” 20 U.S.C. §6311(b)(8)(C). For the first time, federal law promised to close the gap in access to this essential school resource—a key to closing the achievement gap. Though the prior Administration moved forward at a disappointingly slow pace of implementation and enforcement of these foundational teacher equity requirements, our coalition members were heartened to see this requirement prioritized under President Obama’s and your leadership in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which required states to comply with section 1111(b)(8)(C) of the ESEA (20 U.S.C. 6311(b)(8)(C)) as a condition of receiving stimulus funds. ARRA, Section 14005.

The Administration’s focus on teacher equity continued when the original ESEA Flexibility Guidance was released in 2011. In that guidance, Section 1111(b)(8)(C) was specifically not waived as part of the waiver package.1 Since then, however, the Department has done little to enforce the teacher equity provision in either waiver or nonwaiver states.2 Most recently, we are concerned with the apparent backtracking on the equitable distribution requirements as reflected in the November 14, 2013 Letter to Chief State School Officers.3

First, the ESEA Flexibility renewal policy misses a major opportunity to address one of the most significant issues facing public education in the U.S. by including no requirements to ensure equitable teacher distribution. These waiver renewals are an excellent opportunity for the Department to advance its equity agenda in a meaningful way. Requiring equitable teacher distribution in waiver renewals would ensure that states effectively enforce equitable distribution at the risk of losing their waiver, finally giving equitable distribution a stick to match the Department’s carrots, which have proven ineffective. Though the Department reportedly plans to develop a 50-state strategy for equitable distribution early next year, given the Department’s poor track record in enforcing prior teacher equity plans—notably, states’ lack of progress on and accountability for meeting plans submitted to the Department in 2006—we are concerned that this planning, with no requirements in the waiver renewals, will once again be merely a symbolic nod to equity, without any meaningful change for students.

Second, strengthening the equitable distribution provisions in Title I and II of NCLB will yield limited results. The definition of a “highly qualified teacher” has been altered significantly since the passage of NCLB so teachers who are still in – and in many cases just beginning – teacher training programs are deemed “highly qualified.” Worse, in many states, the provision allows teachers to be the teacher of record and labeled “highly qualified” for up to three years even if they are not enrolled in a teacher preparation program. This effectively renders moot the equitable distribution provisions based on teacher qualifications because novice teachers with little or no training are given the same classification as fully qualified veteran teachers.

Third, we reiterate our concern with the Department’s narrow focus on teacher effectiveness data as the sole measure of teacher equity. Even if all states had an accurate and meaningful teacher evaluation in place today (which they do not), new teachers will not be covered by them, as most experts agree that teachers’ effectiveness cannot be judged until there are at least three years of classroom data to examine. Data from the Office for Civil Rights Data Collection shows that minority students are twice as likely to be taught by novice teachers. The ESEA waiver program permits these novice (and often underprepared) teachers to teach for three or more years before their effectiveness is ever measured, thereby continuing to subject our highest-need students (including English learners and students with disabilities, in addition to low-income and minority students) to a steady churn of novice, unevaluated teachers.

Moreover, the renewal guidance itself acknowledges that many waiver states are still years away from implementing their teacher and principal evaluation and support systems, notwithstanding the deadlines established in the original waiver requirements. The renewal guidance delays the timeline for implementation of evaluation systems, eliminating the requirement to pilot the system in 2013-14, and eliminating the requirement to use results to inform personnel decisions in 2015-16 (and instead permitting states to establish their own timelines for this latter requirement.) In a perfect world, a reliance on teacher effectiveness data as the sole measure of teacher equity would be troubling and overlook many of our highest-need students. In the current imperfect policy context in which the Department is pushing back the timeline on teacher evaluation systems, focusing solely on teacher effectiveness eviscerates the equitable distribution requirement and represents a massive injustice for our highest-need students.

We urge the Department not to ignore section 1111(b)(8)(C)’s two requirements to ensure that poor and minority students are not disproportionately taught by teachers who are inexperienced or out-of-field. We urge the Department to immediately establish meaningful benchmarks for equitable access to teachers who are not 1st and 2nd year novices and to teachers who are teaching in the field for which they are subject matter competent and fully-certified—and require states and their districts to meet these benchmarks in order to continue to be eligible for an ESEA waiver in 2014-15 and 2015-16.

Thank you for consideration of the Coalition for Teaching Quality’s concerns. We stand ready to work with the Department on drafting more robust teacher equity waiver guidance and reviewing waiver renewal applications.

 

1“An SEA would not be exempt from the requirement of ESEA section 1111(b)(8)(C) that it ensure that poor and minority children are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers; however, once more meaningful evaluation and support systems are in place in accordance with principle 2 (described below), an SEA may use the results of such systems to meet that requirement.” ESEA Flexibility, p.2, September 23, 2011.

See, e.g., Ayers, Jeremy and Isabel Owen. No Child Left Behind Waivers: Promising Ideas from Second Round Applications. Washington: Center for American Progress, 2012, at 38 (“Few states outlined plans for ensuring students have access to effective teachers, though the flexibility package requires them to uphold current law in this area. We are concerned that states are not focusing their data systems to inform and monitor local education agency distribution of educators in an equitable fashion or encouraging local education agencies to take actions to remediate imbalances”). Hall, Daria. A Step Forward or a Step Back?: State Accountability in the Waiver Era. Washington: Education Trust, 2013, at 6 (“Many other state plans, though, are vague at best when it comes to ensuring there are effective teachers and leaders in Priority schools. And no state has articulated a clear plan for addressing teacher assignments within Focus schools to ensure students who need the most support are placed with the strongest educators”).

3 http://www2.ed.gov/policy/eseaflex/secretary-letters/flexextensionltr111413.pdf

 

Sincerely,

The Coalition for Teaching Quality (members listed on next page)

CC: Deb Delisle, Assistant Secretary, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education

Catherine Lhamon, Assistant Secretary, Office for Civil Rights

Roberto Rodriguez, White House Domestic Policy Council

 

Coalition for Teaching Quality (95 Organizations)

 

National Organizations

 

Alliance for Multilingual Multicultural Education

American Council on Education

American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education

American Association of People with Disabilities

American Association of State Colleges and Universities

American Council for School Social Work

American Council on Rural Special Association of University Centers on Disabilities

ASPIRA Association

Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Autism National Committee

Broader Bolder Approach

Center for Teaching Quality

Citizens for Effective Schools

Coalition for Community Schools

Communities for Excellent Public Schools

Council for Exceptional Children

Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates

Disability Policy Collaboration, A Partnership of The Arc and UCP

Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund Inc

Easter Seals

Education Law Center

FairTest, The National Center for Fair & Open Testing

First Focus Campaign for Children

Gamaliel Foundation

Helen Keller National Center

Higher Education Consortium for Special Education

Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities

Latino Elected and Appointed Officials National Taskforce on Education

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Leadership for the Common Good

League of United Latin American Citizens

Learning Disabilities Association of America

Movement Strategy Center

NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

National Alliance of Black School Educators

National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities

National Association of Elementary School Principals

National Association of School Psychologists

National Association of Secondary School Principals

National Association of State Directors of Special Education

National Center for Learning Disabilities

National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness

National Council for Educating Black Children

National Council of Teachers of English

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

National Disability Rights Network

National Down Syndrome Congress

National Down Syndrome Society

National Education Association

National Latino Education Research & Policy Project

National Opportunity to Learn Campaign

National PTA

Opportunity Action

Parents Across America

Partnership for 21st Century Skills

Public Advocates Inc.

Public Advocacy for Kids

Rural School and Community Trust

School Social Work Association of America

SEDL

South East Asia Resource Action Center

TASH – Equity, Opportunity, and Inclusion for People with Disabilities

Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children

TESOL International Association

United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · December 16, 2013