Monday, July 07, 2014

Could the Feds Cause the State to Change your Teaching Assignment?

This from Politics K-12: 

Arne Duncan Unveils 50-State Teacher-Equity Strategy

The U.S. Department of Education Monday detailed its long-awaited "50-state" strategy for putting some teeth into a requirement  of the 12-year-old No Child Left Behind Act that has gone largely unenforced up until now: ensuring that poor and minority students get access to as many great teachers as their more advantaged peers. 

States will be required to submit new plans to address teacher distribution by April of 2015, or just a few months before the department likely will begin to consider states' requests to renew their waivers from the NCLB law. 

This isn't the first time that the feds have asked states to outline their plans on teacher distribution, but the results so far haven't exactly been a stunning success. 

Under NCLB, which was signed into law in 2002, states were required to ensure that poor and minority students were not being taught by unqualified teachers at a higher rate than other students. But fewer than half of states have separate teacher-equity plans on file with the department. Most of those plans are at least several years old, and the Education Trust, a Washington based organization that advocates for poor and minority kids, found them to be seriously lacking in this 2006 report. 

Meanwhile, a national survey of teachers found that core classes in high-poverty schools are twice as likely to be taught by out-of-field teachers as similar classes at schools serving more advantaged students, according to the Education Trust.

But addressing that problem won't be easy. States have a limited authority and capacity to ensure that districts distribute teachers fairly, since decisions like hiring and transfers tend to be made at the local level. Plus, states are currently knee-deep in developing new teacher-evaluation systems that take student outcomes into account. 

So will this new batch of plans actually bring about change?
That remains to be seen. To help states move forward, the Obama administration plans to develop a $4.2 million new "technical assistance" network—called the Educator Equity Support Network—to help states develop their plans and put them in place. The network will come up with model plans to guide states' work, and give educators a space to swap information about how they have approached the teacher-equity problem. (It's worth noting that $4.2 million is a pretty small amount in federal budget terms. It's less money, for example, than the administration would allocate to just three individual foundering schools under the School Improvement Grant program, and this money would be spread throughout the entire country.)

The administration is also planning to publish "Educator Equity" profiles in the fall, to help states get a sense of where their gaps are when it comes to equitable distribution of teachers. And it will share states' data files from the Civil Rights Data Collection, to help inform their analysis of where they currently stand when it comes to teacher distribution. (It's worth noting that much of the data in the CRDC analysis already come from the states themselves.) 

But big questions loom, including just how—and whether—these state-equity plans will figure into waiver renewal. Will the Obama administration decide not to renew a state's waiver if it doesn't develop a sufficiently ambitious, but workable, teacher-equity plan? 
That idea was on the table last year. In August of 2013, the Education Department said it planned to require states to look at where they are falling short when it comes teacher equity in order to renew their NCLB waivers. 

But a few months later, the Obama administration backed off that proposal in favor of a much more streamlined waiver "extension" process. Instead, the feds promised to take a more rigorous look at the teacher-equity issue through a 50-state strategy that would apply to all states, not just the 40-plus with waivers. The feds had initially hoped to unveil that plan in January, but didn't release anything until Monday.

The equity proposal comes several months after civil rights organizations—and their congressional allies—turned up the pressure on the Obama administration to make teacher distribution a condition of waiver renewal. 

Members of the three caucuses in Congress representing minority-group lawmakers: the Congressional Black Caucus, the Hispanic Caucus, and the Asian Pacific Caucus, sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan back in February blasting the impact of the waivers on the poor and minority students the NCLB law was initially designed to help, and imploring the Obama administration to look closely at whether states are taking teacher-equity issues seriously before deciding whether to extend their waivers.

Even though the details are still sketchy, the administration's initial proposal seems likely to get good early reviews from the field.

Secretary Duncan is planning to hold a roundtable discussion of teacher-equity issues at the Education Department Monday. He'll be joined by Randi Weingarten, president American Federation of Teachers; Wade Henderson, president and CEO of Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; and Chris Minnich, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. (Presumably, those folks wouldn't appear with the secretary if they absolutely hated this plan.)

And Deborah Veney Robinson, the vice president for government affairs at The Education Trust, said the organization is “encouraged by today's announcement by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan of his intention to focus new energy on the problem of unequal access to quality teachers."

This from Education Week (February, 2014):

Minority-Group Lawmakers Slam Impact of NCLB Waivers

States allowed to stray from core goals, letter says

The Obama administration's waivers to states from provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act have allowed some to back off the core goal of the law—educational equity for poor and minority students—a group of powerful House Democrats said in a sharply worded letter sent to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last week.

The lawmakers are demanding that the U.S. Department of Education set a high bar for waiver renewal, a process that's already underway. Forty-two states and the District of Columbia were granted waivers beginning in early 2012. They are set to expire at the end of the 2013-14 school year.
The letter was signed by U.S. Rep. George Miller of California, the top Democrat on the House education committee, and members of the three caucuses in Congress representing minority-group lawmakers: the Congressional Black Caucus, the Hispanic Caucus, and the Asian Pacific Caucus. Together, they're known as the "Tri-Caucus" and represent a key voting bloc among House Democrats.

The letter marks the most pointed criticism yet from inside the Beltway of the impact of the waivers on English-language learners, students in special education, and minority children, and it comes from a group of the Obama administration's most powerful legislative allies.

"The federal role in education is historically a civil rights role, serving to protect and promote equity," the lawmakers write. "However, we are concerned that some state policies, approved under the initial round of waivers, have not lived up to the mission."

Specifically, the lawmakers criticize Mr. Duncan and states for the use of so-called "super subgroups," which allow states to combine subgroups of students—the disadvantaged, minority students, English-language learners, and students in special education—into a single group for NCLB accountability purposes. But the technique could mask the dismal performance of a particular group of students, the lawmakers argue.

"These policies mean that students may slip through the cracks of averages and ambiguities," they write.

In response to the letter, Dorie Nolt, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said in an email, "We have received the letter on Elementary and Secondary Education Act flexibility and look forward to responding. The department shares the same commitment to protecting and promoting equity for students."

Low Bar Alleged

The lawmakers also contend that the Education Department enables states to set a low bar for graduation rates, by allowing students who graduate in five or even six years to carry the same weight for accountability purposes as a student who graduates in four. That's an issue that Rep. Miller, who is retiring after this year, raised last year.

And they worry that students in special education and ells are being neglected by the waiver process. They want the department to release data on how those students and others are faring academically under the waivers.

They also want the department to press states on the equitable distribution of teachers, an emerging issue for the department.
Initially, the Education Department had planned to attach further strings to waiver renewal, by specifically requiring states to ensure that students in high-poverty schools are taught by effective teachers. But the department backed off that idea, instead floating the possibility of a "50-state strategy" on teacher equity that would affect both waiver and nonwaiver states. The 42 states that have waivers will instead be able to extend them through a more streamlined process.

But Rep. Miller and the Tri-Caucus members are worried that a simplified system could further water down protections for subgroup students.

"This is going to be a process where either the administration is serious about the civil rights of these children, or they're not," a clearly angry Mr. Miller said in an interview. If the administration fails to allow for civil rights protections, he warned, "the department is going to get their ass handed to them by members of Congress."

But Chris Minnich, the executive director of the Washington-based Council of Chief State School Officers, had a different take.

"I agree with a lot of the stuff in that letter," he said. "I believe we can prove what [Rep. Miller] wants us to prove. The states are the ones that developed higher standards. The states are the ones that have developed new accountability systems. We're open to improve them."

That said, Mr. Minnich added: "This is more just saber-rattling than anything." While acknowledging the limited power of House Democrats, who are in the minority, Mr. Minnich said: "If George Miller wants to do something, he should see that we get a new [ESEA] law."

This from Ed Week (February 2014):

Scrutiny Rises on Placement of Best Teachers

The U.S. Department of Education is developing a 50-state strategy that may finally put some teeth into a key part of the No Child Left Behind Act that has been largely ignored for the past 12 years: the inequitable distribution of the nation's best teachers.

Central to the federal strategy will be a mix of enforcement and bureaucratic levers to prod states into making sure that poor and minority students are not taught by ineffective and unqualified teachers at higher rates than their peers.

Among those levers, according to the department: investigations of districts and schools using the power of the department's office for civil rights, or OCR; new state teacher-equity plans; and perhaps new rules for future NCLB waiver renewals.

"We don't want to miss out on any opportunities where we can move states forward," Deborah Delisle, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, said in a wide-ranging briefing with reporters late last month. "And we also recognize that every state has different laws. ... It's quite complex when we look across a 50-state strategy."

Complex indeed, said Chris Minnich, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, in Washington.

"There's no set of plans that will make teachers be equitably distributed," he said, adding that states have little power to influence where teachers teach since hiring and placement are, for the most part, local decisions.
And that's just part of the reason why distribution of teachers is such a thorny issue. Inequitable distribution might take place between districts, or between schools within the same district. There could be problems within an individual school, or a single grade level.

What's more, policymakers are only now getting a handle on how to judge effectiveness, as states continue to work on more sophisticated evaluation systems that judge teachers on student growth. For years, state and federal law have focused on easier-to-measure factors such as years of experience.
"What we advocate is using those indicators that we know are solid as soon as possible," said Daria Hall, the director of K-12 policy development for the Education Trust, a Washington organization that advocates on behalf of at-risk students. "As evaluation systems get on their feet and fully functioning, then we should look at evaluation results."

Enshrined in Law

Under the No Child Left Behind Act as written in 2001, states were required to make sure all their teachers were "highly qualified" by 2005-06. (The Education Department ultimately postponed the deadline for one year.) The focus was on a teacher's years of experience, certification, and education.
But another NCLB provision, which was largely ignored in President George W. Bush's administration and during most of the Obama administration, required states to ensure that poor and minority students were not taught by unqualified teachers at higher rates than their peers.

A review of teacher-quality plans on the Education Department's website shows that fewer than half the states have on file separate "equity" plans that address such teacher-distribution issues, and the vast majority of those plans are several years old.

What's more, a 2006 report by the Education Trust found those plans woefully lacking.

In all, only five states have updated any of their teacher-quality plans since President Obama took office in 2009.

Under the direction of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the department tried to modernize the NCLB law's teacher-quality language by shifting the emphasis away from a teacher's qualifications to effectiveness, and by linking a state's efforts to whether it could get a renewed NCLB waiver. States balked at that aggressive tactic, and the department backtracked late last year.

"We don't have one district that systemically identifies their most successful teachers and principals and places them with the kids and communities that need them most," Mr. Duncan said in the Jan. 30 briefing.
Federal Pressure Points
The U.S. Department of Education is working on a 50-state strategy to improve at-risk students' access to highly effective teachers.

Here are leverage points for the department:

Office for Civil Rights

The department is using its civil rights office to investigate inequities in districts that affect poor and minority students. As one example, the office has launched investigations that resulted in more services for English-language learners.

Updated State Plans

The No Child Left Behind Act required states to develop plans to ensure teachers are highly qualified, and that poor and minority students have equal access to such teachers. Federal officials haven't required those plans to be updated in years.

NCLB Waivers

Forty-two states plus the District of Columbia have waivers under the NCLB law, which come with strings from the department. Federal officials could attach future renewals to states' equity commitments. 


Anonymous said...

It will be interesting to see how Appalachian districts are affected by this, if at all.

Anonymous said...

I thought one of the teacher unions was calling for Mr. Duncan's resignation.