In Missouri, the state's most vulnerable students are often left with the least experienced teachers. Nearly 10 percent of educators in the poorest schools are in their first year on the job. Seven percent of teachers lack proper certification or licensing.
In the state's richest schools, it's a different story. Only four percent of educators in affluent school districts are in their first year of teaching, while just two percent are without certification or licensing.
A state plan approved Thursday by the Department of Education seeks to reverse these disparities in Missouri. Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, New York, Nevada, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Wisconsin also had educator equity plans approved. More will be implemented in other states on a rolling basis.
This is a result of the department's call last July for states to develop plans to ensure that the best teachers are equitably distributed across rich and poor classrooms.
Missouri's plan aims to refine an "educator shortage predictor model" so officials can anticipate teacher shortages before they occur and ensure qualified educators are available to work in challenging schools. The state will work to recruit diverse educators and monitor the relevance and effectiveness of teacher preparation programs.
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 mandated that predominantly minority and disadvantaged districts receive access to quality educators, although this directive was never consistently enforced. Fifteen years later, disparities persist, making low-income and minority children more likely to be taught by inexperienced and unqualified teachers. In December, the Department of Education outlined the extent of these disparities, releasing state-by-state data, as shown in the map below:
Poor Schools Are More Likely To Have First-Year Teachers
The Gap In Percentages Of New Educators Teaching In Rich And Poor Schools
*Negative numbers indicate instances where poor schools are more likely to have experienced teachers.
Critics question whether or not the federal government will be able to get states to enforce their plans this time around. But on a call with reporters, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan noted that his department has the ability to hold states accountable for their progress.
"Obviously we have a variety of enforcement options available, but to be very clear that is not our first choice," Duncan said. "Our first choice is to partner with states, to hold them and us mutually accountable."
In order to promote transparency in this area, states will have to publicly report their progress while the department will convene state-specific events to bring together stakeholders, Duncan said.
Education leaders have expressed support for the states' plans.
“We know that access to great teachers makes a big difference for all students, and even more so for students facing the challenges of concentrated poverty and racial isolation," said President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Wade Henderson on the call. "Without federal interventions like this, millions of these students will continue to have less of their fair share.”
“Few issues in education are more important than ensuring equitable access to high-quality teachers, and the Department of Education is right to focus attention on this topic. Clear action plans are a first step, but we’ve got to make sure that these plans are actually enacted,” Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust, said in a press release.
Missouri is taking baby steps to make sure the implementation is right.
"I woke up this morning to a brand new day, a new phase of life. Up until now its almost been a year of planning and writing and visioning what you want to do," said Paul Katnik, assistant commissioner for the Missouri Office of Educator Quality. "Implementation is 10 times more important than planning."