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At a meeting with chief state school officers from across the country last week, Secretary Arne Duncan talked about groups like Ed Trust that are worried about the department’s decision to back away from renewal criteria for waivers.

“There is a huge lack of trust here,” Duncan reportedly told the state chiefs, urging them to set the bar high and prove us (and others) wrong. At issue is the department’s decision to back away from provisions that would have better ensured that all students have access to our nation’s most effective teachers. Duncan continued: “There are folks who think some states talk the talk but don’t walk the walk in some of these things. Some of that historical skepticism is valid in my mind, quite frankly.”

As it should be, given states’ track record on this matter. The vast majority of states haven’t taken any significant action on the issue of equitable access and most of them haven’t even updated plans related to this since 2006, according to our internal analysis. Despite requirements under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) that are meant to ensure that low-income students and students of color are not disproportionately taught by less qualified teachers, we found only 12 states that have collected data on teacher distribution and attempted to deliver any policies to address it. Unfortunately, these efforts were, in most cases, weak and ineffective. Only six states have a person on staff directly responsible for teacher equity, and given that state leaders have repeatedly articulated that this is difficult work, this should be a real concern.

Amidst all of this disappointing news, we did identify a few bright spots. Massachusetts provides incentives to effective teachers to transfer to high-need schools and communicate their success in an attempt to attract others. Louisiana’s school districts define which schools should be targeted for improvement, and the state increases the compensation of effective teachers who teach there.  Colorado requires districts to report data, including those from the newly implemented teacher evaluation system, on teacher assignment patterns.

As these examples show, equitable access to effective teaching can and should be addressed. Ensuring that the best teachers are with the students that most need them is a challenge to tackle in every state — and one that, if successful, will result in meaningful improvements in the achievement of all students. So, we hope that states will —as Duncan urged them — prove us wrong. But we won’t hold our breath.

This post is written by Etai Mizrav, a teacher quality intern at Ed Trust. He is currently pursuing his master’s degree in public policy at Georgetown University.

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