TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

State ESSA plans on educator equity a real mixed bag

See all posts

There has been substantial media attention recently regarding states' Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans, much of which has focused on states' efforts to meet ESSA's accountability requirements. Here at NCTQ, we took a close look at another aspect of ESSA, by analyzing states' plans to meet ESSA's educator equity requirements.

Last month we released educator equity analyses of the 16 states and the District of Columbia that submitted their plans in spring 2017. Our analyses highlight strengths and opportunities among these states' work to ensure that low-income students and students of color are not disproportionately taught by ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers.

Criticizing states or highlighting failings in these plans are not the goals of these analyses. Instead, we showcase states with strong elements worthy of replication and mention opportunities for these plans to be enhanced.

Of course, equity issues extend beyond districts and schools. Indeed, many of these issues have their roots in our shameful national history of housing and hiring discrimination, racism, and classism. Nevertheless, states have a critically important role to play in ensuring that, regardless of the cause, where educator equity gaps exist, states, districts, and schools must work to eliminate them.

Since research clearly demonstrates that a teacher is the most significant in-school influence on student achievement, states, districts, and schools must provide effective teachers with incentives and support to serve where they are most needed: in our highest need schools. States and districts should take actions designed to ensure that more of our best teachers are teaching in classrooms where they can help our most at-risk students.

Overall, our review of state's efforts to meet the educator equity provisions in ESSA state plans found that some promising work is underway, but also that significant room for improvement remains. Specifically, we found that the best plans contain the following elements:

  • Clear definitions of the terms "ineffective teacher" and "inexperienced teacher" in ways aligned with the best research. For example, New Mexico defines an ineffective teacher as a teacher who earns an overall evaluation rating of ineffective, or who earns student growth ratings in the bottom ten percent.
  • Articulation of the specific data the state will use to determine whether there are existing educator equity gaps. The very best go beyond the ESSA requirements to include more granular data, such as student-level data, that are necessary to illuminate educator equity gaps that exist within schools. For example, Tennessee currently uses student-level data to calculate its educator equity gaps.
  • Publicly available timelines and interim targets for eliminating identified educator equity gaps so that states can hold themselves--and their districts--responsible for meeting them. For example, New Jersey's plan establishes clear timelines and interim targets that correspond to its existing educator equity gaps, as well as with the state's strategies to eliminate those gaps.
  • Promising strategies designed to eliminate educator equity gaps. For instance, Nevada's Victory and Zoom school incentives will recruit and retain teachers in schools that are high poverty and have a high proportion of English learners, respectively.

Our analysis found that many ESSA state plans include strong definitions for an ineffective teacher that include objective measures of student growth. However, many states have substantial room for improvement in establishing ambitious and achievable timelines and interim targets for eliminating existing educator equity gaps.

Failing to ensure that low-income students and students of color have equal access to excellent teachers robs them of a vitally-needed chance to succeed. Fortunately, states have powerful levers that they can use to close equity gaps.

For example, when designing strategies intended to eliminate educator equity gaps, states should engage with the full range of policymakers who will be responsible for implementing these plans. States also should carefully review whether districts with longstanding equity issues are using state and federal education funds strategically to address any existing educator equity gaps.

Additionally, states can and should take steps to ensure that progress toward eliminating equity gaps is regularly measured. States should also implement processes for evaluating and improving the strategies that districts are implementing to eliminate educator equity gaps.

We hope that states will carefully review our analyses and consider incorporating our suggestions for improvement.