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Education Department Approves Nine More States’ Teacher-Equity Plans

By Andrew Ujifusa — November 18, 2015 3 min read
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The U.S. Department of Education announced Wednesday that it has approved nine more states’ plans to ensure that all students, and low-income students in particular, have access to high-quality teachers.

The newly approved plans come from Idaho, Illinois, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Utah, and Wyoming, and are states’ responses to the department’s Excellent Educators for All Initiative, which began in 2014. The initiatives’ three parts include the creation of comprehensive teacher-equity plans, an “educator equity support network” to help support teachers in high-need schools, and equity profiles to help states identify gaps in access to high-quality teaching.

Highlights of the approved plans include Illinois’ pledge to work with teacher-preparation programs to develop “best practices” to get new teachers ready to teach in high-poverty and high-minority schools. Idaho said it will provide financial incentives for teachers to stay in the state. And Montana said it will expand the eligibility for a program that provides student-loan forgiveness for teachers working in rural, high-poverty areas.

All the states, according to the department, have agreed to publicly report their progress.

With the equity plans the Education Department previously approved in September and October, the number of states to get their plans OK’d rises to 42.

Plans and Enforcement

The Education Department approved teacher-equity plans from 16 states in mid-September, and an additional 17 last month. Although states pledged to make sure that low-income students have access to good teachers, and to raise teacher quality, education policy observers and advocates questioned whether states will actually do a good job implementing these plans. And when we looked at some of the plans, some were essentially repackaged ideas from the past, rather than new proposals.

And then there’s a state like Montana, one of the nine to get its equity plan approved in Wednesday’s announcement. Last summer, Montana made it very clear that while it considers the issue important, state officials simply don’t have the power to make changes in key areas and help their plan succeed.

“The state does not control the hiring and placement of teachers in our schools,” wrote Denise Juneau, Montana’s superintendent, in a May letter accompanying the state’s submitted plan. “These decisions are made by locally elected boards of trustees, not the state.”

Proposals in previously approved equity plans included student-loan forgiveness for paraprofessionals entering high-needs teaching fields in Minnesota, and a pay-for-performance system in Nevada. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also said at the time that specific states would get “equity labs” to bring educators togethers to put the plans into action.

What kind of oversight or enforcement mechanism does the department have regarding these plans? At one point it considered factoring in these equity plans when making decisions about states’ waivers from portions of the No Child Left Behind Act, but it ditched that idea. Duncan said two months ago he would prefer not to take punitive actions against states for failing to adhere to their plans, but didn’t take it off the table.

States were required to submit the equity plans last June, per new Education Department requirements designed to broadly improve teacher equity. But the general idea itself isn’t new.

Under the NCLB law, states had to guarantee that all their teachers were highly qualified by the 2005-06 school year, but plans to make that happen gathered dust on shelves without being updated for several years.