CAP/AIR Event Pushes for More Comprehensive Policies to Root Out Inequity and Debates the Role of the Federal Government

By Jane Coggshall, GTL Center, Jun 29, 2017

Twelve years after federal policy first tried to chip away at the problem of unequal access to teacher quality through No Child Left Behind, the field continues to grapple with this complex issue.

Today’s “Equitable Access” event at the Center for American Progress (CAP), cohosted with American Institutes for Research, reminded the policy wonks in the room that low-income students and students of color are still more likely than their peers to be saddled with less experienced and less effective teachers.

A great many efforts are under way to remedy this unjust situation—from providing retention bonuses, to establishing teacher residency programs that prepare teachers to work in high-need schools, to strengthening school leadership, and on and on. Literally hundreds of such initiatives are documented in states’ Title I equity plans, which the CAP team helpfully reviewed.

Yet here we remain, inequitably.

Speaking at the event, the GTL Center’s director, Angela Minnici, and CAP’s Jenny Demonte, agreed that states need to make these various efforts more targeted as well as more coherent, so progress in one area isn’t undone by continued dysfunction in another.

To aid that endeavor, Minnici unveiled a nifty new quick-start guide to our Moving Toward Equity online tool. The guide was created specifically to push our collective thinking toward more effective action on equitable access.

As we eagerly await the details of the ED’s revised 50-state strategy for better addressing unequal access, several insights from the panelists are worth sharing and considering:

  • Ken Haines, president of the Prince George’s County teachers union, talking about the high turnover of teachers in his county and the need for better teaching and learning conditions, said that he believes there are millions of people in the public who would come back to teaching “in a heartbeat” if the conditions were right.
     
  • Lauren Beckham, project coordinator for the PROGRESS Project (a performance management and instructional improvement model supporting 21 priority schools in Calcasieu, Louisiana), said that effective teachers need multiple pathways to advance in their career (such as being mentors, instructional coaches, or demonstration teachers) without leaving the classroom entirely.
     
  • The GTL Center’s Bryan Hassel, whose team at Public Impact has been working to modernize staffing arrangements, argued that we shouldn’t look just at percentages of highly effective teachers schoolwide; to really understand inequity, it’s important to get to the student level, so that we’re able to report how many low-income students and students of color have access to great teachers compared to their peers.  This would also encourage adminstrators to think more strategically about how to extend the reach of their best teachers.
     
  • D.C. State Superintendent Jesús Aguirre agreed that high-quality data are a very important tool but added that states need to do a better job of getting those data back to districts and schools so they can make good decisions.

The role of the federal government also was hashed out among the panelists, who seemed to reach a tentative consensus that the feds have a very important role to play in leading the conversation and providing incentives to spur action. However, because the problems are systemic, the solutions live primarily (but not completely) at the local and regional levels (and measuring progress is a sticky wicket) the feds will need to tread carefully.

Did you catch the event? What insights did you walk away with? Do you have ideas for a coherent approach to talent development in high-need schools and districts? 

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