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How Do States Plan to Make Sure the Poorest Schools Get Good Teachers?

Need a cure for insomnia? Forget the Tylenol PM, just spend a few minutes digging through states' plans for improving equitable teacher distribution, required as part of the U.S. Department of Education's "50 state strategy" on the issue.  

Many of the plans are long—100 pages or more. And many of them include an eye-glazing level of detail, narrative, and data—writing them probably wasn't an easy lift for officials in most state education agencies, who have a lot on their plate to begin with.

The big question is: Will these plans actually make a difference when it comes to the equitable distribution of teachers?

And the answer is ... it's tough to say. There's no clear enforcement mechanism for the department here, especially because developing the plans is no longer tied to the renewal of No Child Left Behind Act waivers, which was the feds' original hammer.

Almost all of the plans have been posted on the department's website. The department is going to spend the summer reviewing them to make sure they meet all requirements (including things like using data to identify "root causes" of inequity). States that need to make changes—we don't know which ones yet—will need to update their plans and then the updated versions will be reposted. And apparently it will be clear in coming months which states' plans passed muster from the get-go and which had to be revised.  

So what's in the plans, besides all that detail and narrative? Some common themes I noticed in perusing about a dozen applications, plus talking to folks who have looked at more:

•There didn't seem to be much in the plans about physically moving the best teachers into the lowest-performing schools, in part because that's not something states really have control over (areas like teacher contractors are really a district level thing). But some states, including Idaho, Florida, and Missouri, did say they would like to explore incentives (i.e. cash or promotions) to entice the best teachers to the neediest schools.

•States were not shy about pointing out the weaknesses in the department's ask. Montana noted that it only has so much control over things like placement. And New Jersey said it's begun to move toward a system of teacher effectiveness, as opposed to looking at whether or not teachers are "highly qualified," an outdated metric.

•There was a lot more of an emphasis on the areas that states really do have some influence over, like the teacher pipeline. States sought to beef up teacher prep programs they think work. (New York is big on ones with rich clinical experiences, for example.) And others sought to entice folks into teaching by making sure college students are aware of things like loan-forgiveness programs.

•There was a lot of focus, too, on the existing teaching force. Many applications stressed ideas like more intensive mentoring, career ladders for teachers, and more professional development.

•Even though states were expected to work with "stakeholders" (i.e. teachers' unions and district leaders) to develop the plans, many of them simply rehashed ideas or programs already on the books. In other words, the exercise didn't really spur new developments or policies in many places.

That's the CliffNotes version. Much more in this story.

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