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First 'Educator Equity Lab' Hosted by Mississippi, U.S. Education Departments

UPDATED

The first "educator equity lab" that's designed to show how states can ensure equitable access to high-quality teachers across schools was hosted at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss. on Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education and the Mississippi education department. 

The lab is part of the federal Education Department's effort to close what it called "existing equity gaps" when it comes to teacher distribution. Starting in July 2014, the department has been calling on states to submit plans for ensuring that disadvantaged students are not taught by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers at higher rates than other children.

Mississippi's plan includes the following strategies:

  • Providing differentiated interventions with schools where there is a major "equity gap" in terms of teacher distribution;
  • Redesigning teacher and principal preparation programs in order to connect them more strongly with professional evaluations;
  • Enhancing resources to support implementation of the state's academic standards, assessments, and multiple pathways to high school graduation.

Data submitted by the state indicates that "high-poverty and minority students are disproportionately located in the lowest-performing schools, which have half as many highly-effective and 1.5 times as many ineffective teachers as the high-performing schools," according to a statement released by the U.S. Education Department Tuesday.

"It is our plan to ensure that all students have equal access to high-quality instruction. In fact, ensuring that every school has effective teachers and leaders is one of State Board of Education's top five goals," Mississippi Superintendent Carey Wright said in a statement coinciding with the educator equity lab.

The federal government has identified the teacher-equity gap as a major issue that states must address, and the department has been fielding and approving plans at a steady clip since the latter half of last year. Most recently, in mid-November, the Education Department approved nine states' plans, bringing the total number of approved plans to 42. UPDATE: As of late December, the Education Department had approved teacher-equity plans for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

However, as we've noted previously, it's unclear whether states will do a good job implementing these plans, and whether these plans consist at least in part of warmed-over ideas from past efforts. Montana schools chief Denise Juneau, for example, made it clear to the Education Department that district leaders, not the state, control the distribution of teachers. 

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into law last December, states will have to stick with these teacher-equity plans. Many of the plans rely in part, but not completely, on the previous federal definition of a "highly qualified" teacher that under ESSA states no longer have to follow.


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