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A Push for Teacher Equity

The unequal distribution of effective teachers is cited as a major problem for the achievement gap, and also quite an entrenched one given that poor working conditions, seniority rules and other factors result in higher proportions of such teachers in low-income and minority schools. A little known provision in the NCLB law required states to have plans to address this situation.

The U.S. Department of Education made a big stink about this in 2006. But the agency has been practically silent on the issue ever since, and its own monitoring reviews show that a lot of states aren't doing much with their "equitable distribution" plans.

Both the House and Senate versions of the stimulus bill would require states' applications for the $79 billion financial-stabilization to describe how they intend to make progress on these plans.

But there's some important wording differences in the House and Senate language. For example, the House language is lifted right from the NCLB bill and requires states to address "inequities," while the Senate language requires states to "increase the number, and improve the distribution," of effective teachers and principals.

Amy Wilkins, a lobbyist for the Education Trust, which has pushed hard on the teacher-equity issue, told me her group much prefers the House language to the Senate's "amorphous" language. "Equity is a clear goal and equity's what we're after," she said. "Under the Senate bill you could improve the distribution by one teacher and be in compliance."

So what will stay and what will go? In my experience the deals on a bill of this size are hashed out unofficially long before members meet in conference committee, so the horse trading is probably going on now. Unfortunately, I'm not at all aware of the value of this horse in comparison to some of the others.

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