TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

State ESSA plan whack-a-mole

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Ever play the carnival game of whack-a-mole? Every time you smash one mole back into its hole, two more pop back up. That's how NCTQ's analysts feel right now with states' plans to close educator equity gaps under the ESSA. However, what's at stake here is not a cheap stuffed animal prize, but the access that some of our most vulnerable students have to strong teachers.

Among the 34 state plans we reviewed this fall, too many permit continued discrimination against low-income students and students of color by failing to ensure that these students have equitable access to effective, experienced, and in-field teachers; that is, to those teachers who are most likely to contribute to these students' academic learning and growth.

This past spring, we analyzed states' plans to meet ESSA's educator equity requirements for the first 17 state plans submitted to the United States Department of Education for peer review and approval. We discovered these plans to be a real mixed bag, displaying strengths but also significant opportunities for improvement. Our spring analyses spotlighted specific components of state work worth replicating, but also noted numerous areas where states missed the mark.

Unfortunately, the plans of the remaining 34 states address few of the common flaws noted in our prior review. Instead of emulating the promising practices among the first 17 state plans and adapting suggestions for improvement, as appropriate based on local context and need, we found that an even greater percentage of the ESSA state plans that we analyzed this fall fell short.

Although plans alone are insufficient to change students' daily in-school experience, language matters. A state's ESSA plan sets forth its understanding of the current status of education within its state and the steps it intends to take to address any shortcomings that are preventing all students from reaching their maximum potential.

Yet, among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, fewer than half of states define "inexperienced teacher" based on research demonstrating that teacher effectiveness increases substantially after two years in the classroom. And only seven states include sufficiently detailed and rigorous timelines and interim targets for eliminating their identified educator equity gaps. Such measures are important to help ensure that states and stakeholders are able to hold themselves accountable for monitoring, assessing, and -- ultimately -- eliminating any existing educator equity gaps.

Despite these flaws, we are pleased to acknowledge and celebrate states from our fall review with plans that contain some strong elements. For example, many state plans include promising strategies to eliminate existing educator equity gaps, including Florida's ESSA state plan which leverages a state law that prevents any Florida student from being taught by an ineffective teacher for two years in a row.

Other states, including South Carolina and Ohio, are calculating and reporting educator equity gaps using, among other data, student-level data, which enable these states to determine whether there are any educator equity gaps existing within a specific school.

Additionally, Kentucky and New York go above the beyond the statutory requirements to calculate and report educator equity gaps for additional student groups: students with disabilities and English learners. Calculating and reporting the extent to which these vulnerable student populations are taught by ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers enables these states to take steps to address additional educator inequities that may exist within the state, beyond those required by the statute.

Nevertheless, overall, we are forced to conclude states have largely shirked their responsibility to prevent low-income students and students of color from being disproportionately taught by ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers.

Fortunately, there is still time for states to improve their plans. We hope that states will carefully review and consider our analyses, which highlight specific opportunities for each state to strengthen its plan. More can and must be done to ensure that all students have equitable access to effective, experienced, and in-field teachers.