Federal Educator Quality, Take 62 1/2

Today, Arne Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education announced its new “Excellent Educators for All Initiative.” A likely response to much recent data (including that from Ed Trust) that students from historically disadvantaged backgrounds are least likely to have the best teachers leading their classrooms (and likely in partial response to change the subject from the divisive Vergara decision in California, ED is seeking to turn a new page on teacher quality and the equitable distribution of our most effective educators.

In making the announcement, EdSec Duncan said:

All children are entitled to a high-quality education regardless of their race, zip code or family income. It is critically important that we provide teachers and principals the support they need to help students reach their full potential. Despite the excellent work and deep commitment of our nation’s teachers and principals, systemic inequities exist that shortchange students in high-poverty, high-minority schools across our country. We have to do better. Local leaders and educators will develop their own innovative solutions, but we must work together to enhance and invigorate our focus on how to better recruit, support and retain effective teachers and principals for all students, especially the kids who need them most.

Perhaps more interesting, though, was the communique that Team Duncan shared with the nation’s chief state school officers in rolling out the new initiative. Included in the letter:

Over the past several months, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) has conducted outreach to Chief State School Officers, school districts, civil rights groups, teachers, principals, and other stakeholders to explore ways to tackle and resolve the disparities in access to great teachers that we know continue to exist. Through this outreach, we heard that there is no single solution to this problem; we need a broad and systemic focus on supporting and improving teaching and learning, especially in our highest-need schools and for our highest-need students, including students with disabilities and English learners. We heard that the best efforts will not only include recruiting, developing, and retaining great educators with the skills to teach all students, but will also build strong school leaders, create supportive working conditions, and address inequities in resources and supports for teachers.


This is not the first time that states, districts, and the federal government have tried to grapple with the complex challenge of ensuring equitable access to excellent educators, but previous efforts have not fully addressed the challenge. Our continued collective failure to ensure that all students have access to great teachers and school leaders is squarely at odds with the commitment we all share to equal educational opportunity. I thank you for your ongoing and tireless work on behalf of America’s schoolchildren, and I look forward to working collaboratively and supporting SEAs and districts as part of a nationwide effort to close this unacceptable opportunity gap.

The new initiative is initially focusing on three key areas: 1) New State Educator Equity Plans; 2) Educator Equity Support Network; and 3) Data Release and State Profiles.

At face value, it all seems well meaning. These are three areas that all those, whether they be “reformers” or defenders of the “status quo” should be able to get behind. Maybe some consensus on the one area — effective teaching — on which we need the greatest collaboration and commitment.

But it does raise one unanswered question. How will this new effort interact and build on the work that has already happened on this topic? How does it build on the existing research? How does it move forward from past ED efforts, like teach.gov? How does it build on the teacher-focused philanthropic efforts led by everyone from Gates to Ford? How does it learn from upstart efforts such as the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellows and STEM mid-career programs? How will it bring together colleges of education and alt cert programs in a meaningful way?

How does it learn from all that came before it? Or will it simply be another effort that seeks to reinvent a wheel that already has plenty of road miles on it? Only time will tell …

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