Missing the mark: States’ teacher-equity plans fall short
(Washington, D.C.) - A new Education Trust analysis of teacher-equity plans prepared by all 50 states and the District of Columbia finds that most states failed to properly analyze data that would determine whether poor and minority children get more than their fair share of unqualified, inexperienced, and out-of-field teachers. Only two states, Nevada and Ohio, fully complied with the requirements and offered specific plans to remedy inequities.
As a result, the Ed Trust report released today recommends that the U.S. Department of Education reject the overwhelming majority of plans and require states to start over - this time with clearer guidance from the federal government on what is required by the law.
”Research is clear that teachers make the difference in how much students learn,” said Heather Peske, the Education Trust senior associate who directed the analysis. “We can’t close achievement gaps without confronting the gaps in access to teacher quality for low-income and minority students.”
The No Child Left Behind Act not only requires states to guarantee that 100 percent of core academic classes are taught by “highly qualified” teachers, but also to “ensure that poor and minority children are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified or out of field teachers.”
After years of ignoring this provision of the law, the U.S. Department of Education required that state leaders submit data on the distribution of teachers by July 7 — along with their plans to fix it.
Sadly, most states missed the mark.
To comply with the law, each state had to look at inequality in four areas:
- Whether low-income students are more likely than other students to be assigned to unqualified or out-of-field teachers in core academic courses;
- Whether minority students are more likely than other students to be assigned to unqualified or out-of-field teachers in core academic courses;
- Whether low-income students are more likely than other students to be taught by inexperienced teachers;
- Whether minority students are more likely than other students to be taught by inexperienced teachers.
Unfortunately, the majority of states did not look at all four areas of inequality. Only three states – Ohio, Nevada, and Tennessee examined all four components. New York also offered some analysis of the four measures.
But most states simply didn’t comply with the law - and had little guidance from the U.S. Department of Education to help them do so.
Of the plans submitted, 34 states only focused on one area of the equity analysis — the percentage of classes taught by highly qualified teachers in high-poverty schools compared to low-poverty schools. Only 10 states appropriately analyzed whether minority students were taught disproportionately by teachers who were not highly qualified. Only four states examined whether students from low-income families were taught by inexperienced teachers, and only three looked whether minority students were taught disproportionately by inexperienced teachers.
More than half of the states (27) asserted that by simply meeting the highly qualified teacher (HQT) requirements of NCLB, they would also meet the teacher-equity requirements. This is insufficient because it ignores inequality in whether poor and minority students are more likely to be assigned to inexperienced teachers.
Furthermore, some states failed to acknowledge that merely complying with HQT provisions does not address the problem of out-of-field teaching in schools that serve low-income children and children of color. For example, a teacher who is only highly qualified in social studies might be assigned to teach math classes.
Two states — Nevada and Ohio — stand out for examining all four measures of inequality and for devising strategies targeted at fixing the inequitable distribution of unqualified and inexperienced teachers.
Nevada did what no other state did and submitted three equity plans: a state plan, and plans from the states two districts that serve the most low-income and minority students, Clark (Las Vegas) and Washoe (Reno) counties. All three of Nevadas plans include specific, targeted strategies for the equitable distribution of teacher talent.
Additionally, Clark County’s plan includes innovative strategies, such as giving principals in high-need schools two extra months to consider teacher-transfer requests before principals in other schools can recruit them.
Ohio describes 68 specific strategies to balance the distribution of highly qualified and experienced teachers. Further, each of these strategies is supported by data and analysis conducted by the state and includes progress measures, public-reporting mechanisms and state monitoring plans.
While many states mentioned interesting programs, no other states submission amounted to a plan for ensuring that poor and minority students get the teachers they deserve.
”Concentrating inexperienced teachers in schools with poor and minority students puts these students at an educational disadvantage. States have to accept responsibility on this issue in order to close achievement gaps,” Peske said. “This is fundamentally about fairness and equality of opportunity.”
Three states - Missouri, New Mexico, and Utah - have yet to submit a plan. Instead, they informed the Department of Education that they would submit plans in the future.
Other states, among them Iowa and North Dakota, determined that they had no inequities in the distribution of unqualified and inexperienced teachers, but based their decisions on flawed methods of analysis.
”While it’s clear the states put a lot of time and energy into these submissions, its also clear that we dont yet have real plans to achieve equity,” said Ross Wiener, Education Trust policy director. ”If these plans are accepted by the Department of Education, then we will have gone through an exercise that purports to address inequality, but injustice will persist,” he said.
The Ed Trust recommends:
- The U.S Department of Education reject the overwhelming majority of equity plans and provide states with more explicit guidance on what is required under the provisions for their second attempt;
- States ensure full public participation in the development of equity plans, including the inclusion of advocates for low-income communities and communities of color. The new plans should set measurable goals and a clear process for public reporting on progress;
- The Secretary of Education create a new, high-level position to focus on teacher quality issues;
- Title I and Title II state administrative funds be conditional, and only given to states that comply with teacher-equity requirements on clear timelines;
- State data systems be improved to support the equity analyses.
“We can’t close the achievement gap without squarely confronting and remedying disparities in teacher quality,” Wiener said. “These equity plans were supposed to be a first step toward honestly facing up to the problem. Unfortunately, they don’t even come close.”