How Can States Ensure Equitable Access to Quality Teachers?

Teachers are the single most important school-based factor affecting student achievement. Unfortunately, low-income students and students of color have less access to effective teaching than other students—a reality that has contributed to massive educational inequity. There’s no question that we need to do better.

Over the past two decades, the federal government has taken some important steps in this area. The No Child Left Behind Act, passed in 2001, required every state that receives a Title I, Part A grant to submit a plan to the U.S. Department of Education (USED) to ensure that low-income students and students of color are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified or out-of-field teachers.  The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) contains a similar requirement, and also provides funding (through Title II, Part A) to improve equitable access by preparing, training, and recruiting effective teachers and school leaders.

But as we see time and time again, merely creating a plan is insufficient to ensure equitable access. Implementing these plans with fidelity and rigor, particularly in partnership with districts, will require states to confront a number of challenges. The Equitable Access Support Network (EASN), funded by USED’s Office of State Support, was designed to help states and territories with both the design and implementation of their equity plans. Under AEM’s leadership, Education First was proud to play a significant role in the EASN, which concluded its work in April 2017.

So what have we learned? While all states face unique challenges in ensuring equitable access to effective teachers, the EASN identified the following issues common across states and developed tools to address them:

  • Identifying – and measuring progress toward closing – equity gaps. According to an analysis of 2015 equity plans conducted by Westat, “setting performance measures was an area in which the Educator Equity Plans were underdeveloped.” The EASN convened a work group of states to learn about how to apply performance management concepts to their equitable access work. This included the creation of a theory of action to support states’ equitable access frameworks, the development of goals and outcomes for the equitable access work and the refinement of data systems and infrastructure to support the ongoing analysis of gaps and progress toward closing them. The EASN developed a series of tip sheets to support states with defining equity goals, identifying metrics to track progress and collecting, analyzing, and responding to data.
  • Working with LEAs to design and implement local educator equity plans. Though states are the entities actually submitting equity plans, the scale and root causes of equity gaps can vary tremendously among local education agencies (LEAs) in a particular state. Equity labs are one tool that states have begun to develop—with support from the EASN—to address inequitable access to effective teachers at the local level. Equity labs are state-led convenings of district leaders and stakeholders designed to give state educational agency staff the opportunity to share the purpose of state equity plans, collect feedback on state-level strategies, facilitate district-level equity planning and provide districts access to critical friends and a network of colleagues for planning and implementation. To help states design and implementation equity labs, we created an Equity Lab Toolkit for states. This toolkit contains guidance and artifacts based on the work of four states (Missouri, Ohio, Mississippi, and Connecticut) to design and implement their own equity labs. We’ll be sharing more about what we’re learning about equity labs soon.
  • Partnering with LEAs to address human capital issues. Educator equity touches every part of the human capital continuum, from recruitment to hiring to retention. The EASN worked with a group of states to create the Talent Management Self-Assessment Checklist, a tool that district teams can use to assess how their talent management strategies are helping to promote—or hinder—equitable access to excellent educators. The EASN also developed a companion Talent Management Guide for School Districts, which provides concrete resources and examples for states to address issues of equitable access across the human capital continuum.

Though ensuring equitable access to effective educators is difficult work, it is vital if we want to prepare all students – and particularly low-income students and students of color – for success in college, careers and life. We will continue to advocate for and support this work in states and districts until all students have the great teachers they deserve.

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