Broad Coalition Fights for Sanders ESEA Amendments to Ensure Equal Access to Quality Teachers

Washington, D.C. – More than eighty civil rights, disability, parent, student, grassroots and education organizations from across the country today urged Congress not to turn back the clock on teacher quality gains for poor and minority students, English Learners, and students with disabilities as it considers reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). 

In a letter to Sen. Tom Harkin (D, IA) and Sen. Michael Enzi (R, WY), chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Committee on Health Education, Labor and Pensions and sponsors of the reauthorization proposal, the coalition urges that the revised ESEA require teachers to complete a minimum level of training and demonstrate competence to teach effectively before they enter the classroom—plus ensure that the neediest students get the full and equal access to these well-qualified teachers they deserve.

While the groups applaud the Senators for “taking the courageous step of releasing a bipartisan bill and attempting to fix some of the many flaws in NCLB,” they express their serious concern that the reauthorization proposal undermines the critical goal of providing all children with equal access to competent teachers. It does so, they insist, by severely weakening the “highly qualified teacher” standard, permitting the inequitable distribution of teachers, and eliminating public disclosure of data on teacher quality and equity.

“In diluting NCLB’s ‘highly qualified teacher’ terminology to include teachers just entering their training programs, the current bill sets a standard so low that the phrase becomes virtually meaningless and its protections for at-risk students nonexistent,” said John Affeldt, managing attorney for Public Advocates Inc. “The bill allows underprepared and ineffective teachers to be concentrated in schools with the neediest students for years,” Affeldt added.

“Why is it OK for students like me to be taught by teachers-in-training?” said Candice Johnson, a student in South-Central Los Angeles who experienced first-hand the adverse effects of being taught by underprepared teachers-in-training and who visited Congress last spring to demand it halt the practice. “If intern teachers are good enough for me, why aren’t they good enough for the students down the road in Beverly Hills?”

For almost a year, the coalition of civil rights, disability rights, parent, education, and grassroots community organizations, now calling themselves the National Coalition for Teaching Quality, has been urging Congress to ensure all children have access to teachers who are both fully-prepared on day one and effective once in the classroom. The coalition developed a set of specific ESEA recommendations that it is now tracking against the bill.

To fulfill these recommendations, the coalition has turned its sights on the bill’s committee mark-up, scheduled for Wednesday, when  Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) will offer amendments to strengthen the definition of a highly qualified teacher and end the practice of concentrating the least prepared teachers in the highest need schools. The Sanders amendments will also require that, where untrained teachers are hired to fill shortages, they be adequately supervised and that parents be notified when their child is being taught by one of these teachers. 

“Congress cannot pretend that it really cares about closing the achievement gap or providing equal opportunities to learn if it refuses to address the most fundamental right of every child to have a fully-prepared and qualified teacher who knows how to teach their subject matter effectively, and is expected to do so,” said Tanya Clay House, public policy director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

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