Group Seeks Help For Minority Achievement

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The pending reauthorization of the nation's pre-eminent K-12 education law has stirred recent debate over its accountability and teacher-training provisions. But at least one advocacy group here has spent four years preparing to address those issues.

Through ties to states and districts, the Education Trust has kept a sharp eye on the implementation of the previous amendments to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—in 1994—and was poised to provide a list of needed changes when debate about the legislation began earlier this year.

In Washington, the Education Trust has gained attention and forged a reputation as a strong, independent advocate for poor and minority students. Founded in 1990 as part of the American Association for Higher Education, the group has worked with liberals and conservatives alike to promote its ideas on educational accountability and teacher quality.

Its mission is straightforward: Promote high standards and accountability for all students, including disadvantaged students, and make sure the students have the means to achieve those goals.

"Our only motivation is to improve achievement among poor and minority kids," said Kati Haycock, the group's founder and director. "We also have no stake in the status quo."

Most of its work is at the state and local levels, where the group works closely with states and districts to improve student achievement and teacher quality. Ms. Haycock and her staff have been interested in analyzing data to document problems on those matters and find solutions, in part through federal legislation.

In Washington, the group has focused on Title I, the $8 billion program for disadvantaged students that is the centerpiece of the ESEA, and the related teacher-quality and accountability issues.

As a result, the group's tough, frankly stated positions have sometimes alienated it from other organizations, ranging from conservative think tanks to the teachers' unions. For instance, the Education Trust is adamant that only properly trained teachers should be giving direct instruction, and so Title I paraprofessionals should not be allowed to teach students.

The group is also calling for states and districts to offer incentives that would equalize the distribution of teacher talent—such as bonuses to recruit more experienced teachers into inner-city schools, and changing the tenure system to assign the best teachers to the neediest schools.

"If we could do just one thing for poor kids, getting them the highest-quality teacher would be the one thing," Ms. Haycock said.

Bipartisan Praise

The group has won high praise from both parties' members of the House education committee.

Becky Campoverde, the spokeswoman for the Republicans on the Education and the Workforce Committee, said those in the GOP respect the Education Trust's work and consider it nonpartisan. "Their main interest is good public policy without dealing with politics," she said.

"They're just excellent," added an aide to Democrats on the committee. "They represent so many groups and have such great expertise."

The Education Trust's influence can be easily seen on one member, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., an outspoken liberal who earlier this year introduced an ESEA proposal that would require all teachers to be qualified in the subjects they teach.

"They are the only group inside the Beltway that advocates purely, 100 percent from the perspective of children," said Charles Barone, Mr. Miller's legislative director.

The group was not entirely pleased with the Title I bill passed by the House this fall, however. The trust had hoped for tougher language on teacher training, more restrictions on the use of Title I aides, and more accountability mechanisms.

Now, its leaders are turning their attention to the Senate, as Republican lawmakers prepare their ESEA proposal.

"I don't think the welfare of kids is a partisan issue," said Amy Wilkins, a senior associate at the Education Trust.

Honest Advocacy

Ms. Haycock, a former director of affirmative action for the University of California system and executive vice president of the Children's Defense Fund, founded the group in 1990 when she saw a need for higher education to become involved in improving precollegiate schools. The group was also a prominent voice on last year's reauthorization of the Higher Education Act; the trust called for tougher standards and better training for teachers.

"Standards amount to a lot of nothing unless higher education uses those standards," Ms. Wilkins said.

Despite its growing visibility on Capitol Hill, about 80 percent of the Education Trust's work is done at the local level. The group's 20 staff members work with states and districts on setting and implementing high standards for all students; writing challenging curricula; better preparing teachers through precertification and professional development; shifting decisionmaking authority to local schools and officials; and linking standards to consequences for schools, teachers, and students.

"I think our ability to share that experience gives our advocacy a level of believability and honesty," Ms. Haycock said.

Vol. 19, Issue 16, Pages 23, 26

Published in Print: December 15, 1999, as Group Seeks Help For Minority Achievement
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