I’ll Scratch Your Back, If You Comply With This Federal Mandate
Last October, my students learned a few vocabulary words — amendment, judicial review, and furlough. The government shutdown created what educators like to call “a teachable moment.” I seized the opportunity to discuss topics such as division of power and how a bill becomes a law. Overwhelmingly, I was asked the same question, “If the federal government is shut down, why am I at school?”
My students then received a lesson about the 10th amendment, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Because education is not explicitly mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, education is a power that belongs to the states.
Tell that to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
The U.S. Department of Education unveiled its 50-state strategy on Monday. The strategy, a neglected measure of the 12-year-old No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), readdresses the uneven distribution of effective teachers across low- and high-poverty schools. It requires states to create new plans that address teacher distribution by April 2015, and Missouri is not immune.
For fewer than half the states that submitted plans post-NCLB, many have not been updated in several years. Below is a table from Missouri’s original analysis identifying core academic subjects (math, science, etc.) taught by highly qualified teachers. The data, though last revised in 2006, shows a lower percentage of highly qualified teachers in high-poverty schools.
Missouri is one of 42 states to receive a waiver from parts of NCLB, including the infamous accountability decree, “All students will be proficient by 2014.” In May, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) submitted a request for a one-year extension to the 2012 waiver. DESE will have to renew again next May.
Not coincidentally, the Department of Education’s requirement for updated teacher equity plans will have to be submitted one month prior to DESE’s 2015 extension request. The Department of Education gets equity plans, Missouri gets NCLB waiver. The Department of Education gets unified curriculum, states get Race to the Top money. “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” seems to be the Department of Education’s M.O.
Of course, teacher equity is an issue that ought to be addressed, but the U.S. Constitution did not grant federal authority over education. This power belongs to Missourians. This whole incentive game the Department of Education is playing isn’t fooling anyone. Teacher equity may be a problem, but federal overreach is a bigger one.