WASHINGTON (November 9, 2009) The State Fiscal Stabilization Fund – part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (AARA) – provided an unprecedented $48.6 billion to states. The purpose of these funds is two-fold: to save teachers jobs and to provoke powerful, positive change in the way schools do business so they can promote higher achievement for all students and close the achievement gaps that separate low-income students and students of color from others.
Recently released data indicate that states and school districts have indeed used the funds to stave off teacher layoffs. However, the reporting requirements released today by the Department of Education give us little hope for change in what may be the most important issue in education nationallythe teacher-assignment patterns that disadvantage poor children and children of color in state after state and district after district.
Instead of seizing on the opportunity to force truth-telling about unfair teacher-assignment practices, the Department of Education has chosen a reporting metric that papers over the problem.
We are disappointed and troubled by the departments use of the ”highly qualified teacher” (HQT) designation as the primary measure of whether low-income students and students of color have equal access to strong teachers. Because states game the system, the HQT designation erases rather than illuminates deeply inequitable teacher-assignment patterns. Moreover, the department chose to use this flawed indicator despite explicit statutory language in the ARRA that would provide a far more accurate picture of such patterns.
Its difficult to understand how the department – which has been so sure-footed up to this point, which has repeatedly emphasized the power of transparency for transformation, and which time and again has underscored the importance of strong teachers to student learning – could fall so short on something so important.
The problem with HQT
No Child Left Behind required states to ensure that all teachers of core academic courses had earned a ”highly qualified” designation – but the law left states with broad discretion to define ”highly qualified.”
With the exception of a handful of states, states turned away from the opportunity the law offered to ratchet up the caliber of their teaching forces; instead, they used the federally granted discretion to define almost every member of their teaching force as ”highly qualified.” Thus, according to the latest data from the Department of Education:
- 94 percent of all teachers at high-poverty elementary schools are highly qualified compared with 96 percent of all teachers at low-poverty elementary schools.
- 90 percent of all teachers at high-poverty secondary schools are highly qualified compared with 94 percent of all teachers at low-poverty secondary schools.
But by every other metric we see yawning differences in student access to strong teachers:
- Out-of-field teachers are more than twice as likely to teach core classes in high-poverty and high-minority schools as they are in low-poverty and low-minority schools.
- Students in high-minority schools are far more likely to be taught by first-year teachers than are students in low-minority schools.
The national patterns hold true at the state level as well.
An example from Illinois
Illinois reports that 98 percent of its teachers in high-poverty elementary schools are ”highly qualified” compared with 100 percent at its low-poverty schools. In addition, 98 percent of its teachers in high-minority secondary schools are ”highly qualified” compared with 100 percent in its low-minority secondary schools.
Other metrics tell a dramatically different and far more disturbing story:
- Data from a national survey indicate that in Illinois, 41.6 percent of core-subject classes in high-poverty middle and high schools were taught by a teacher with neither certification nor a major in the subject area. This figure is more than six times the rate of out-of-field teaching in low-poverty secondary schools.
- Teachers with neither certification nor a major in the subject area taught 34.5 percent of core classes in high-minority middle and high schools. In contrast, only 10.1 percent of core classes are taught by such teachers in low-minority schools.
The ARRA asks for something quite different
Section 14005(d)(2) of the ARRA law specifically requires an assurance, signed by the governor, that states:
”The State will take actions to improve teacher effectiveness and comply with section 1111(b)(8)(C) of the ESEA (20 U.S.C. 6311(b)(8)(C)) in order to address inequities in the distribution of highly qualified teachers between high- and low-poverty schools, and to ensure that low-income and minority children are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers.” (Emphasis added)
In turn, ESEA Section 1111(b)(8)(c) requires the state to report:
”the specific steps the State educational agency will take to ensure that both schoolwide programs and targeted assistance schools provide instruction by highly qualified instructional staff as required by sections 1114(b)(1)(C) and 1115(c)(1)(E), including steps that the State educational agency will take to ensure that poor and minority children are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers, and the measures that the State educational agency will use to evaluate and publicly report the progress of the State educational agency with respect to such steps.” (Emphasis added)
The statutory requirements of both laws to ensure that low-income and minority students are not taught at higher rates than others by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers gives the Department of Education a much stronger tool than the ”highly qualified teacher” designation to shine a spotlight on and provoke action to change inequities in teacher assignments.
However, with the regulations released today, the department has ignored the law and missed its first opportunity to address one of the most significant contributors to the achievement gap. We hope this was a one-time oversight and not the beginning of a pattern of shortchanging the students who most need protection.
For more information, contact Stephanie Germeraad at 202/293-1217 x354