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Advocates: Target Teacher-Quality Spending to Evaluations, Equal Access

As a condition of receiving federal teacher-quality funding, districts should develop new evaluation systems—including consideration of student achievement information—by the 2016-17 school year, and eventually use such systems to make sure that low-income and minority students have equal access to teachers deemed effective, according to a newly released set of policy recommendations.

The recommendations, released jointly by the Washington-based Education Trust and Center for American Progress, suggest "a specific set of timelines, incentives, and sanctions" for states to meet those requirements.

The proposal is one of the first major ones by D.C.'s heavy-hitting advocacy groups to take on teacher-quality spending, specifically the Title II Improving Teacher Quality State Grants. Title II always takes a bit of a back seat to the comparatively larger Title I and IDEA funds, but at $3 billion, it's far and away the largest federal teacher-quality program out there.

As I reported a while back, every state and all but about 5 percent of districts get a Title II allocation, but there's not a lot to show that the cash actually does much on the ground. The federal Education Department conducts a use-of-funds survey every year, but most of the information generated from it is pretty general. (See the most recent one here.)

Under the recommendations, states receiving Title II funds would have to develop minimum state rules for new teacher-evaluation systems, including the use of student information, observations, and at least four ratings categories, by 2016-17.

In the interim, states would report other information, including the percentage of teachers in each school who: Had more than a year of experience; taught in-field at the secondary school level; and held certification.

As for sanctions, the recommendations propose that states would use the new evaluation tools to monitor, report, and intervene to correct patterns of inequitable access to effective teachers by poor and minority students and their peers, both within and between districts.

Under the proposal, a district that didn't narrow access gaps within four years would lose half of its Title II funds and required to make up the rest with a match; after five years, it would lose its Title II allocation altogether.

That's a lot more stringent than the current Title II accountability measures, which are linked to the highly qualified teacher designation and don't have many teeth.

Last time Capitol Hill officials released draft language for Title II, in 2007, it didn't go anywhere, largely because of fears about a proposed performance-pay program. Other groups complained that the language was just too prescriptive and onerous. Will these recommendations influence a second go-around? Stay tuned.

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