Ross Wiener, policy director of The Education Trust, on the U.S. Department of Education’s announcement of new teacher quality policies
(Washington, D.C.) — Today, the U.S. Department of Education has taken another step backwards from its responsibility to ensure that all students in American public schools have access to the qualified teachers they need and deserve.
The data could not be more clear: low-income and minority students are much less likely than their peers to be taught by well qualified teachers. Because this practice contributes mightily to the achievement gap that separates such students from other young Americans, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) includes a series of provisions designed to prompt states and districts to take aggressive action to remedy this longstanding imbalance.
We appreciate that some states may need some additional flexibility as they pursue the goal of all teachers highly qualified by 2006. For example, extremely rural school districts may need additional time to meet the goals. That said, giving them so much flexibility that students in these schools might never be taught by a highly qualified teacher is clearly too high a price.
Today, both through its action to provide more flexibility in rural schools and in the middle grades, and through its inaction in confronting states that have flouted the most important provisions of the law, the U.S. Department of Education has continued to sidestep this important issue. Raising teacher quality is a national problem that demands leadership, resources, and the identification and broad dissemination of best practices. Unfortunately, this Administration has been lacking in all of these areas.
The teacher quality provisions in the law have always been about honesty there are no consequences attached to this information, no sanctions for not meeting the goals. These provisions were meant to provide schools, parents and policymakers with honest data about teacher qualifications.
We worry that, in pursuit of better relationships with state officials, the Department has lost sight of its responsibility to students and parents. In effect, todays announcement means that rural parents will have less accurate information about whether their children are taught by highly qualified teachers.
The Department has done more today to show states how they can avoid addressing teacher quality problems than help them address the substance of these problems. Many states will see todays announcement as an invitation to define their problems away, instead of a call to tackle them head-on. Worse still, this announcement extends a pattern of disowning and diminishing the teacher quality provisions in the law, and postpones the day when public education will realize its goal of equal opportunity for all. Students from low-income families and students of color will disproportionately suffer the consequences.