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Coalition Pressures Education Dept. Over Teacher-Equity Backtracking

A coalition of nearly 100 groups is turning up the heat on the U.S. Department of Education over its decision to roll back a requirement pertaining to "teacher equity," or ensuring that poor and minority students have access to the most capable teachers.

Some background: The department initially required states that wanted to renew their No Child Left Behind waivers to spell out how they would use teacher-evaluation results to ensure this access. But states, buried in common-core implementation and other mandates, balked. And in the end the department backed off, saying it would use another mechanism to encourage teacher equity.

In a letter sent yesterday to the Education Department, the Coalition for Teacher Quality, which counts among its members a variety of groups representing minority groups, English-language learners and students with disabilities, protest this move. They include the NAACP, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the Council for Exceptional Children.

"[G]iven the Department's poor track record in enforcing prior teacher-equity plans—notably, states' lack of progress on and accountability for meeting [teacher-quality] plans submitted to the Department in 2006—we are concerned that this planning, with no requirements in the waiver renewals, will once again be merely a symbolic nod to equity, without any meaningful change for students," the coalition says.

With new evaluations still under development in many places, the group also wants the federal agency to require states to make sure that novice teachers and out-of-field teachers are also not disproportionately assigned to low-income and minority students.

The letter marks a new prong of advocacy for the coalition. Until this point, most of its ire has been directed at Congress for extending the so-called "highly qualified" teacher loophole, which permits states to consider teachers in alternative-certification programs as highly qualified under the NCLB law. This lets districts avoid disclosing to parents that the teachers aren't yet fully certified, the coalition contends.

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