States Wrestle With How to Get Good Teachers in All Schools

Ed weekLast year, with much fanfare, the Obama administration declared that it would tackle the tricky issue of equitable teacher distribution, calling on states to revise their plans for making sure that high-poverty schools get their fair share of qualified educators.

Now most states have answered the call, rewriting plans that initially stemmed from requirements in the No Child Left Behind Act.

But it’s an open question whether the work that went into these updated plans­—some of which are more than 100 pages long and include an eye-glazing level of detail—will actually lead to any real progress.

While some states used the opportunity to come up with new ideas for improving teacher quality and distribution, others simply restated or repackaged strategies already underway. Here’s a sampling of some typical–or particularly striking–ideas taken from plans posted on the department’s website:

Florida: Will identify and convene the state’s most effective teachers so that they can help communicate best practices to others.

Idaho: Cited strategies already underway, such as leadership bonuses for teachers. Pledged to explore the feasibility and impact of other ideas, including state-funded loan forgiveness, support for special education paraprofessionals who want to become teachers, and teacher signing bonuses.

Indiana: Identified working conditions as one factor affecting equitable teacher distribution. Promised to survey first-, second-, and third-year teachers and principals to get a sense of how educator preparation can be improved.

Kansas: Touted a plan, already in the works, to bolster mentorship opportunities for the newest teachers. Cited a component of its educator evaluation system to identify teachers’ individual professional learning needs.

Massachusetts: Plans to create school-level reports to show how much exposure students in a particular school have had with teachers who were given a low effectiveness rating, have high rates of absenteeism, have been teaching for less than three years, or aren’t highly qualified.

Missouri: Will work with community members to pinpoint strategies for helping educators navigate the challenge of urban settings. Developing exit surveys to help figure out why teachers leave urban, rural, and/or high-poverty schools.

Nebraska: Promises to increase access to high-quality educators through distance learning programs. Will require its lowest-performing schools to address professional development.

New Jersey: Aims to help address teacher turnover by supporting novice teachers through intensive mentoring.

New York: Pledges to continue providing technical support and training to districts implementing states evaluation system. Will work on bolstering teacher preparation in part by continuing to support programs with a rich clinical component.

Texas: Will develop guidance and tools for local districts to create their own plans for teacher distribution. Will explore strategies to recognize and reward high-performing teachers.


It is still unclear how the U.S. Department of Education will hold states to their promises.

The good news is that, in general, the plans are “definitely richer this time around,” compared to the original batch of nearly a decade ago, said Sonja Brookins Santelises, the vice-president of the Education Trust, an advocacy organization in Washington that focuses on poor and minority students.

The real test will be implementation, she added.

“If a strong plan is put in the cabinet as being done, if a strong plan is not adjusted and monitored and revisited, it’s not going to yield outcomes for kids,” she said.

But the Department’s teacher-equity push, billed as a “50-state strategy” to tackle the long-standing problem of educator distribution, is murky when it comes to how the department will hold states’ feet to the fire, said Chad Aldeman, an associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners, a consulting organization in Washington, who has studied some of the plans.

“I don’t see a lot of hard policy changes coming out of this, either from executive action or legislation,” said Mr. Aldeman, who served in the department earlier in the Obama administration.

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