The Obama administration announced Monday a new effort to improve the quality of education for students in underachieving schools, by putting good teachers where they're needed most.
The "Excellent Educators For All" initiative will require states to develop individual strategic plans by April 2015 aimed at attracting talented teachers to high need schools and communities -- often the hardest communities to staff. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says it's part of the administration's effort to whittle away at the achievement gap facing low-income and minority students.
"Access to great teachers has far-reaching positive impacts, effects for students including increased achievement levels, increased likelihood of college attendance and higher wages over their lifetime," Duncan said.
The administration will also set aside $4.5 million later this year to establish a support network to help school division establish and implement their strategic plans. Teachers unions and education advocates are optimistic and call the initiative a "good first step."
"It’s encouraging to see that the department has come out with this strategy, and you know it’s a good first step," said Deborah Veney, Vice President of Government affairs and Communications at The Education Trust, a non-partisan education advocacy group. "What we would love to see is some substantive change that comes as a result of that."
The big question is accountability. The Department of Education could link this new initiative to waivers exempting states from the requirements of No Child Left Behind. The Education Trust supports that move and says it would strengthen the initiative.
The National Education Association, the country's largest teachers union, says improving the professionalism of teachers in every classroom is "absolutely essential."
"We’re on the same page," said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. "If you’re going to have equity, you have to also make sure that they are all fully trained, certified and licensed."
Despite the new initiative, Van Roekel believes the Department of Education still hasn't gone far enough. He says it should close a "loophole" which currently allows untrained and uncertified teachers in front of a classroom. The NEA also called for the resignation of Duncan during its annual conference this past weekend — a move made largely out of frustration over federal testing mandates.
"It’s really not about Sec. Duncan, it’s really about the programs that are not delivering for kids what they need," Van Roekel said. "It’s time to say let’s come up with a different strategy, because this one is wrong for kids, and it’s wrong for public education."
Responding to calls for his resignation Monday, Duncan said, "We continue to work very closely with both major unions, we work very closely with state unions as well and generally have had very good working relationships."