TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

Our worry is spelled FERPA, not ESEA

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The lack of a major new teacher-related initiative in the Alexander-Murray ESEA draft doesn't have us especially worked up. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that NCLB's highly qualified teacher (HQT) provisions are nowhere to be found in the Senate draft, which does include some nods to—but no requirements around—teacher effectiveness.

HQT has been on a slow path to ignominy, with many viewing its focus on teacher qualifications over performance to be an anachronism. But HQT deserves much credit for shining a spotlight on teachers' need for subject-matter knowledge. As a result, content tests are now a standard part of teacher licensure and out-of-field teaching is much less common

All but four states now require all elementary teachers to pass a content test as a condition of initial licensure. Forty-three states require content tests for secondary teachers, and every state now requires secondary teachers to have a major in their subject area. Just 24 states required majors for secondary teachers in 2001 before the passage of NCLB, and only 13 did in 1991.

Call us optimists, but we believe content testing is now so fully ingrained in the certification process that states don't need federal carrots or sticks to make sure teachers know the subjects they are licensed to teach. As for the very few holdouts, if the feds didn't force compliance in the last dozen years, why would anything change now? 

On another TQ front, we weren't expecting to see a teacher evaluation mandate, but we're also not shedding any tears over its exclusion. This is another place where states have come a long way over the life of NCLB. Actual state policy that requires annual evaluations and evidence of student learning is preferable to vague promises to the feds any day.

We were pleasantly surprised to see a little gem that limits the use of Title II Part A funds for class-size reduction to "evidence-based levels." With so much of this funding currently supporting small reductions that, according to research, make no difference in student outcomes, this nugget could dramatically change how districts use these dollars.

With the House not sharing the Senate's bipartisan approach to reauthorization, the path forward for ESEA is far from clear. But another bill may have a greater chance at moving soon, and this one—FERPA—has us truly worried.

FERPA is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act that gives parents protections over their children's educational records. With so much focus on data leaks and privacy rights, it's not surprising that a FERPA overhaul would be on Congress' agenda.

Data privacy is not really in NCTQ's wheelhouse, and parents are certainly entitled to know that information about their children is safeguarded. We'll leave it to those with privacy expertise to talk more about that.

What has us so concerned are provisions in the draft currently circulating that would allow parent opt-out of any use of student data by a third party. By our read, this could not only devastate educational researchers' access to student information, but could also wreak havoc on the use of performance data for accountability purposes, if the state or district contracts any of that analysis to a third party.

How will we put stock in any research study when we won't know if the results are skewed due to the exclusion of students whose parents opted out? How will we know that school accountability or teacher evaluation results are representative and accurate?

Surely, we can protect parents and children without sacrificing our accountability mechanisms and important research.

Are you worried, too? Let your friends on the Hill know.