Teacher Quality Lawsuit

In case you missed it, David Hoff has all your links here and here on Renee v. Spellings, the lawsuit against the government over the “highly qualified” provisions in No Child Left Behind. Overall, the teacher quality provisions of the law are a mess for several reasons including (a) problems with the statute itself (b) a lack of attention/enforcement by the Bush Administration and (c) widespread evasion by the states on behalf of veteran teachers. But, one problem they don’t have is that they let some teachers in alternative routes teach while they’re getting certified — and that’s the practice this lawsuit, which is an obvious cat’s paw of the ed schools, seeks to stop.

To be sure, alternative routes are a mixed bag in terms of quality but the problem with the debate over the lawsuit, and a problem with the law itself, is the reliance on “certification” as a proxy for quality in the first place. In theory that makes sense, but on this point the research is pretty clear: There is no evidence that certification as it is practiced today by the states adds any value systematically to teaching candidates. In fact, the variance you see among candidates is greater within various routes into teaching than between them (see, for instance, here).

Now some folks take that to mean that any training is a waste of time or money and can dissuade would-be candidates. They argue to spend all this money elsewhere, for instance on salaries or training for experienced teachers who have passed some sort of hurdle. I disagree. Some training is important but it needs to be high quality, relevant, job-embedded, etc…something it’s mostly not now. That speaks to a different sequencing of training than how it is mostly done today — refreshing exceptions are ideas like The Academy for Urban School Leadership in Chicago, which is producing impressive results on teacher retention and achievement and points a new direction.

But, what jumps out at me against this backdrop, and what we know about the inequitable distribution of effective teachers, is that the first big lawsuit brought over all this basically comes from the ed school cartel and is aimed as much at ideas like Teach For America that actually have some evidence behind them as against emergency certification programs that let anyone who can fog a mirror through. Where are the reformers? The federal law is tricky in terms of the ability to bring suits, but it’s high time for a serious state or federal class action suit on behalf of poor and minority kids over the issue of teacher quality. We know two things from the research: First, again, there are big gaps in teacher effectiveness by race and income of students (in other words a distribution problem) and second, a couple of highly effective teachers in a row can seriously help close the achievement gap while a couple of ineffective ones in a row almost hopelessly exacerbates it. So sure, let’s go to court, but about something that might actually help kids, like getting serious about teacher effectiveness.

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