Obama Administration Calls for ‘Excellent’ Teachers, But Plans Unclear

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A letter was recently sent to the Chief State School Officers from the US Education Department concerning a deadline for states to submit plans for the placement of “excellent” teachers in an effort to ensure that students “poor and minority children are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers.”  Plans were requested by the Obama administration earlier last week.

The DOE gave state education chiefs until June to discuss the situations in their schools and to discover whether enough “excellent” teachers were available in struggling schools – and if not, to devise a plan to ensure enough such teachers were placed in each school.

Plans are currently in the works to spend $4.2 million in the creation of a “technical assistance network” that would help states and districts to implement their plans.  States need to locate the cause of the “excellent” teacher imbalance, form a strategy that will fix the issue, and publicly report their progress.

The requirement comes as part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act from 2002.  However, most states have not filed plans since 2006.

“We are all dismayed by the lack of compliance,” Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education, said in a call with reporters Monday. “We’re saying this is critical for us.”

There has been no discussion as to why the Obama administration has not previously enforced the law in the almost six years that it has been in charge of the department.  Also, there has been little said concerning recourse by the DOE if states fail to comply with the requirement.

“The states will comply with the law,” Lhamon said. “What we’re trying to do is make clear what compliance looks like and what we . . . we hope and expect this experience will be consistent with our past experience as well.”

Department spokesman Raymonde Charles said the publicized plans will create enough pressure for schools to comply.

One issue not addressed by the initiative is how to identify and label a teacher as “excellent.”  This has been the central issue concerning teacher evaluation systems across the country.

The Obama administration is leaving this topic up to individual states to define, although officials suggest that it be an educator who “is fully able to support students in getting and remaining on track to graduate from high school ready for college or careers.”  Officials also mentioned that teachers who are not “excellent” include those in their first year of teaching, those without certification, and those who take more than 10 days off each year.

Low-income students are more likely to have less-experienced teachers, or those with fewer or no credentials in comparison to students in higher-income schools.

No deadline has currently been set with regards to when the “excellent” teachers would need to be put in place, leaving many to wonder if the Obama administration could 2have done more.

“Effective teachers tend to be attracted to districts that pay higher salaries and have what might be referred to as better working conditions,” he said. “This just ignores the whole question of poverty. There seem to be blinders on the part of our policymakers in that they refuse to acknowledge the impact of poverty on our educational system,” said executive director of the American Association of School Administrators Daniel A. Domenech.