We all remember a teacher who had a special impact on us. The teacher who stayed late to give extra help; organized a fundraiser to afford a school field trip; brought in their own classroom supplies. A teacher with the Three C’s: The teacher who Cares ; is knowledgeable in their Content; and is able to Communicate with students in a way that reaches a child’s zone of proximal development. Accordingly, research shows that teachers are the most important in-school factor for improving student achievement. Every Student Succeeds Act, ESSA, provides states with tools to support our nation’s teachers, including tools to address current teacher shortages through recruitment, training and ongoing professional development.
ESSA’s predecessor, No Child Left Behind, NCLB, attempted to address the inequity issue and need to provide poor and minority students with equal access to qualified, experienced and subject-matter expert teachers. The original plan of NCLB was to use standardized test scores to evaluate teacher “effectiveness” and then coerce states to distribute the “most effective” teachers to under-served schools. This direction included a requirement that states implement new teacher evaluation systems and tie them to personnel decisions, such as firings and tenure by the 2015-2016 school year. Ultimately, states concluded that they were not able to meet the federal law timelines. Consequently, ESSA loosened the reigns of NCLB and does not require that states have in place teacher evaluation systems based on student test scores.
The Opportunity to Learn campaign developed a guide: Excellent Teachers for Each And Every Child: A Guide for State Policy.
Moreover, the guide details a holistic view of how to address the many factors that influence “teacher quality” and equitable distribution of high-quality teachers to schools that need them the most.
In particular, the guide recommends the following:
- Recruit diverse and talented individuals into the teaching profession
- Prepare teachers to be ready for the classroom and for leadership
- Support ongoing professional learning and development
- Develop evaluation systems that improve student learning
- Address teaching and learning conditions
- Fund a sustainable teaching force
- Promote comprehensive teaching quality strategies
Organizations are committed to ensuring that every child has equal access to a fully prepared and effective teacher. Advocacy groups are concerned that states are not focusing their data systems to inform and monitor local education agency distribution of educators in an equitable fashion or encourage local education agencies to take actions to remediate imbalances.
Notwithstanding the fact that NCLB did not outline an effective plan to account within schools that students have access to effective teachers. ESSA section 1111(b)(8)(C) ensures that poor, and minority (including children with special needs), do not continue to be taught by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers. More meaningful evaluation and support systems will need to be put in place by local school districts in order to meet ESSA’s requirements to develop a clear plan for addressing teacher assignments within schools, and that includes those students who need the most support are placed with the strongest educators.
Note: In practice, application requires finesse, because administrators and principals come from a variety of teaching backgrounds and often are not qualified to integrate and match the “skill-set of teachers” to the needs of the students. Again, within the political arena of schools, Superintendents should consider that the variety of teacher philosophies locked into an “NCLB” mind-set will be a challenge for principals upon ESSA's implementation during the 2016-2017 school year.
Nevertheless, under NCLB, teachers who were still in, and in many cases just beginning, teacher training programs were deemed “highly qualified.” Worse, in many states, the provision allowed teachers to be the teacher of record and labeled “highly qualified” for up to three years even if they are not enrolled in a teacher preparation program. This effectively renders moot the equitable distribution provisions based on teacher qualifications because novice teachers with little or no training were given the same classification as fully qualified veteran teachers.
The Department of Education placed a narrow focus on teacher effectiveness data, and even though states had an accurate and meaningful teacher evaluation in place, most experts agree that teacher effectiveness cannot be judged until there are at least three years of classroom data to examine. NCLB and the ESSA waiver program permit these novice (and often underprepared) teachers to teach for three or more years before their effectiveness is ever measured, thereby continuing to subject our highest-need students (including English learners and students with disabilities, in addition to low-income and minority students) to a steady churn of novice, unevaluated teachers.
The Coalition for Teaching Quality represents more than 100 national civil rights, disability, parent, student, community and education organizations advocating for all students to have access to effective educators. The Coalition’s Website developed the following resources on their website http://coalitionforteachingquality.org.
- Excellent Educators For Each And Every Child
- Profession-Ready Teachers and Principals for Each and Every Child
- Strengthening Pathways of Professional Learning and Growth for Teachers and Principals
- Building a Strong and Diverse Teacher and Principal Recruitment Pipeline
- Developing and Supporting Opportunities for Teacher Leadership
State and local school districts should be urged not to ignore section 1111(b)(8)(C)’s two requirements to ensure that poor and minority students are not disproportionately taught by teachers who are inexperienced or out-of-field. Advocates should immediately establish meaningful benchmarks for equitable access to teachers who are not 1st and 2nd year novices and to teachers who are teaching in the field for which they are subject matter competent and fully certified.