The Washington Post

Letter to Obama: We need data on ‘highly qualified’ teachers

Should students still learning how to be teachers be considered “highly qualified teachers“? Should new college graduates with only five weeks of teacher training (that’s what Teach For America gives its recruits before sending them into high-poverty schools) be considered highly qualified? Well, Congress, which was lobbied by Teach For America and other organizations, said “yes” a few years ago. Now a coalition of education organizations is writing to President Obama and other administration officials about the issue. Here’s the text of the letter. (Footnotes have been removed from the body of the letter and put at the end to make it easier to read.)

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave
Washington, DC 20500




Dear President Obama:


Ensuring the educational success of all students requires the equitable distribution of well-prepared and effective teachers in all schools. Yet in too many states and districts across the country, students with disabilities, English Learners, students of color, rural students and low-income children are being taught by teachers with little or no training. Last year, Congress included a provision in H.J. Res 117, which you signed into law, requiring the Secretary of Education to submit a report to Congress by December 31, 2013.


Congress mandated this report to provide a state-by-state picture on the number of students in certain subgroups being taught by teachers-in-training through alternative routes to certification. These teachers-in-training are currently and we believe inappropriately identified as “highly qualified teachers” under federal law and, with that label, permitted to be concentrated in low-income, high-minority schools.


The Secretary’s report is required by law by a provision inserted in the December, 2010 Continuing Resolution (H.R. 3082) in Section 163 making it lawful for teachers who are still in training to be labeled as “highly qualified” under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The Secretary’s report is required by law by a provision inserted in the December 2010 Continuing Resolution (H.R. 3082) in Section 163 making it lawful for teachers who are still in training to be labeled as “highly qualified” under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This report is required to address a harmful provision, added in and extended through appropriations rather than with thorough consideration in authorizing legislation, that allows teachers who have not yet completed their training to be labeled “highly qualified teachers” through June 30, 2014.


While data from some states, including California, indicate that high-need students are disproportionately taught by alternative route teachers-in-training, data that illuminate these problems are not typically reported at the state and federal levels. The Secretary’s report will for the first time provide a national picture of teacher distribution disparities in terms of how many teachers-in training who are called “highly qualified” are working with high need students.


Though the deadline for the Department of Education to report this important data is the end of 2013, there is no indication that the Department has notified states of the Secretary’s report data requirements. The Department has offered to collect a non-representative “sample” from only a handful of states. This is unacceptable and contrary to what the law requires. The statute’s clear direction to report “by state” requires that the data should be broken out by state and aggregated to state-level totals. It does not authorize sampling a subset of states. The call for data to be reported for “each [LEA]” only further confirms that data from each state must be included in the Secretary’s report.


The data needed for this report is data that districts are already required to collect under Section 1111 (h)(6)(A) of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Since 2002, schools and districts have been required by NCLB to have this data available for any parents who request it.


Your Administration has not hesitated to collect other critical education data and to highlight disparities in educational opportunity nationwide through, for example, the Civil Rights Data Collection and the ARRA’s requirement that districts report on per pupil spending at each school. With the report deadline of December 31, 2013 just months away, the Department’s six-month delay in taking any concrete steps to report on disparities in access to fully trained teachers is particularly troubling.


External reviews of the NCLB waiver proposals that the Department has approved for 34 states indicate that little attention has been given to equitable access to fully prepared and effective teachers1, despite assurances from the Department that it would continue to enforce the ESEA requirement (ESEA section 1111(b)(8)(C)) that poor and minority students not be disproportionately taught by unqualified, inexperienced or out-of-field teachers.


Data from the Secretary’s report will provide essential information to parents, educators and policy makers so informed decisions can be made to strengthen education for our nation’s most valuable asset, our children, by ensuring that every child is taught by a well-prepared and effective teacher in every class, every year. We look forward to the Department fulfilling its responsibilities as required by law by December 31, 2013. To that end, we respectfully request an immediate update as to status and immediate steps to begin a full and timely implementation with states and districts.



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


CC: Hon. Arne Duncan, Secretary, United States Department of Education
Roberto Rodriguez, White House Domestic Policy Council
Steve Robinson, White House Domestic Policy Council
Alexis Barrett, White House Domestic Policy Council
Deb Delisle, Assistant Secretary, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education
Michael Yudin, Acting Assistant Secretary, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
Denise Forte, Acting Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development



1 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”).



Coalition for Teaching Quality (93 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
Association of University Centers on Disabilities
ASPIRA Association
Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Autism National Committee
Center for Teaching Quality
Citizens for Effective 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
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 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 Indian Education Association
National Latino Education Research & Policy Project
National Opportunity to Learn Campaign
National PTA
National Urban League
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
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


State and Local Organizations

Abbott Leadership Institute – Newark, New Jersey
Action Now – Illinois
Action Now – North Carolina
Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE)
Arkansas Community Organizations
Bay Area Parent Leadership Action Network
Brighton Park Neighborhood Council – Chicago
California Association for Bilingual Education
Californians for Justice
Californians Together
California Latino School Boards Association
Campaign for Quality Education
Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning Coalition for Educational Justice
Delawareans for Social and Economic Justice
Educate Our State
Grow Your Own Illinois
Inner City Struggle
Justice Matters
Legal Advocates for Children and Youth
Montgomery County Education Forum
Parents for Unity
RYSE Center
San Francisco Teacher Residency
Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education
Young Voices-Providence, Rhode Island
Youth On Board – Somerville, Massachusetts
Youth Together

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.



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Valerie Strauss · May 15, 2013

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