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Law fails to remove green teachers from classrooms

Kenneth J. Cooper | 6/28/2011, 11:24 p.m.

Nearly a decade after the No Child Left Behind law was enacted, studies have shown little progress in reducing the number of teachers of low-income students who are inexperienced or teaching classes outside their subject areas.

The law, which was supposed to stop school districts from putting less qualified teachers in classrooms with low-income students, is best known to the public for requiring more standardized testing. According to studies, considerable progress has been made in reducing the number of uncertified teachers in all schools.

“Overall, the news is not terribly optimistic,” says Sarah Almy, director of teacher quality at The Education Trust in Washington, D.C., which advocates for poor and minority students. “There was the effort and the right intent, but the way it’s played out, I would not say it has made much difference to the kids in question.”

A 2009 report by the National Council on Teacher Quality concluded that “few states have shown much interest in telling their [school] districts they need to assign teachers differently, despite language in No Child Left Behind designed to rectify inequities.”

Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary of education for civil rights, says No Child Left Behind meant “for the first time ever, people were talking about the inequitable distribution of teachers in new ways.” She cites statistical and anecdotal evidence from some states and districts indicating that teacher assignment has become more equitable in those places.

In 2006, states were required to submit “teacher equity” plans to the U.S. Department of Education. By the deadline, Almy says, only Nevada, Ohio and Tennessee filed full plans for monitoring fairness of teacher assignments. She also praises district-level initiatives in Las Vegas and Charlotte, N.C., to address the imbalance.

Because of the change of administrations in Washington, why the Department of Education has not succeeded in making states do more to disperse good teachers is a sensitive issue. The teacher equity plans were reviewed under President George W. Bush, who signed the education law in January 2002.

Ali, an appointee of President Barack Obama, says some states submitted plans “so lacking in strategies and data” that “they had to resubmit their teacher equity plan multiple times before department approval. The last state didn’t get approval until August 2008, more than two years after the original plans were submitted.”

Many states did not measure or report progress on teacher equity, leading the department to pressure them to submit additional plans, yet still not all have complied, Ali says.

During the Obama administration, the department has taken other steps to address the problem. Officials have leveraged competitive grants, convened representatives of 40 states to share strategies and conducted reviews of possible civil rights violations, Ali says.

Between late 2008 and last year, the department’s Office for Civil Rights has opened 11 investigations of whether schools serving poor children have comparable resources, including quality teachers, she says. The investigations involve districts in New York, Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Indiana, Colorado, Texas and California.

States have done a better job of meeting the education law’s requirement that by 2006 all teachers be “highly qualified,” which was defined as having a college degree, full state certification and proven knowledge of the subject they teach.