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Is There a Mismatch Between Ed. Dept.'s Teacher-Equity Plans and NCLB Waivers?

By Alyson Klein — July 22, 2014 2 min read
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For the past five-plus years of the Obama administration, the big teacher-policy emphasis has been on educator effectiveness, meaning tying teacher performance to student outcomes, including on standardized tests. States had to develop teacher evaluations that take test scores into account, both to get a slice of the Race to the Top competitive-grant money, and later, to get flexibility from the No Child Left Behind Act (aka a waiver).

But later this year, as part of its new “50-state strategy” to ensure that low-income students have access to as many good teacher as their better-off peers, the Obama administration will release “Educator Equity” profiles that paint a picture of how states are doing when it comes to distributing teachers between high-poverty and wealthier schools, based primarily on “inputs.” Those factors could include teacher attendance, qualifications, years of experience, and other measures tracked by the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights. (The department doesn’t yet have other key data on areas like teacher and principal turnover or information from states’ new teacher and leader evaluation systems.)

And, next spring, also as part of the administration’s teacher-equity strategy, states will have to come up with plans to address the equitable distribution of teachers. The plans were actually required under NCLB law, but many states never produced them, and most of those that did haven’t updated their plans for years.

The equity plans, like the profiles, are likely to take into account “inputs,” such as whether teachers in high-poverty schools are “highly qualified” and how many years of experience they have. It would be up to states as to whether to include “outcomes” like effectiveness in the mix, but it’s not something the Education Department would likely require. (The feds could certainly encourage it, however).

So is there a mismatch here? Maybe.

But in this case, the Education Department likely didn’t have much of a choice, said Chad Aldeman, an associate partner for Bellwether Education Partners, and a former Education Department official. The authority for the equity plans comes under the NCLB Act, he explained, so the department had to go with what’s allowed in the law.

NCLB specifically requires states to spell out their plans for ensuring that “poor and minority children are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers,” according to the department. It doesn’t say anything about effectiveness. That wasn’t in vogue back in 2002, when the law was enacted.

“It’s using the same language and tools that NCLB allowed,” Aldeman said. “Which is 12-year-old language.”

Is this another (really wonky) example of the limits of waivers vs. an honest-to-goodness reauthorization? Comments section is open!