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Effective teachers are critical to raising achievement and closing longstanding gaps among student subgroups. Indeed, the research on this point has become absolutely clear: Students who have three or four strong teachers in a row will soar academically, regardless of their racial or economic background, while those who have a sequence of weak teachers will fall further and further behind.
Research also, unfortunately, demonstrates that access to effective teachers is not equitable or fair. Although there are strong teachers in many schools, research shows that students in high-poverty schools are more likely than students in more affluent schools to have the least effective teachers.
Despite the importance of teachers and the overwhelming need to match our struggling students with our strongest educators, few states or districts have good information on teacher performance. Fewer still use that information to ensure that low-income students and students of color gain access to the teachers they need and deserve. If we are going to ensure that all students receive a rigorous K-12 education, we must get serious about accurate ways to evaluate teachers based on their performance in the classroom and their individual impacts on student learning, and use that information to improve the practice for all teachers.
States, districts, and schools will have to do the hard work of developing and implementing teacher evaluation systems and ensuring that students have access to great teachers. But federal policy can and should support this work.
Specifically, federal policy should challenge states to set big goals for teacher effectiveness and fair teacher distribution—and to assess both through meaningful evaluation. These goals will embolden leaders who are already moving down this path and will spur others to action.
This work is made more difficult by the need to move far and fast in an environment of incomplete and rapidly changing information. But if we fail to address the critical issues of teacher effectiveness and equal access to strong teachers, then there’s little reason to believe that other reforms will have much impact. That’s an outcome our nation can ill afford.
As the 112th Congress considers the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), it must revamp Title II of the ESEA and target additional dollars toward improving teacher effectiveness and equity. States and districts must engage in important reforms as a condition of receipt of their Title II funds. We call on Congress to consider the recommendations outlined below: to collect and report school-level teacher-quality measures, implement new evaluation systems, and hold states and districts accountable for ensuring that all students have access to strong teachers.
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