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Ed. Dept. to Walk Back Teacher-Distribution Requirements

Michele McNeil over at Politics K-12 has broken the important news that the U.S. Department of Education plans to scale back a requirement that states work to ensure that poor and minority students have equal access to effective teachers, one of the conditions the agency attached to renewal of No Child Left Behind Act waivers.

Aside from making key civil-rights groups mad—"equitable teacher distribution" has been a major thrust for them, especially the Education Trust—it's also an untimely move, given two studies released just this month showing that disadvantaged students tend to get weaker instruction, and also that it's really difficult to encourage the best teachers to transfer to low-performing schools.

The Education Department insists that it isn't abandoning the equitable-distribution agenda, saying it will instead put teeth in provisions already located in Title I and II of NCLB. But is that feasible? As Michele writes: 

"The NCLB law nibbled around the edges of the problem. And the 2009 economic-stimulus package did, for the first time, put the word 'effectiveness' into federal legislation, by making teacher effectiveness one of the four pillars that would govern the spending of $100 billion in education stimulus aid. Also, in the Race to the Top competitive-grant program, teacher distribution became one of many criteria on which states were judged.

"The waiver renewals, however, marked the first significant opportunity for the department to put pressure on most states to address a key problem in K-12."

NCLB required states to take steps to address the unequal distribution of "inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field" teachers, but said nothing about teacher evaluation or effectiveness. The effectiveness language came later and only applied to stimulus funds.

In essence, short of issuing new regulations around Title I or II, it's hard to see exactly what authority the Education Department is going to tap to get this work done.

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