How to improve education by fixing teacher quality is an important policy discussion when discussing where to make changes.

Recently the U.S. Department of Education directed states to improve their distribution of teachers, to try to improve the number of poor students who have qualified teachers, or make the number of poor students who have qualified teachers equivalent to ratio at which non-poor kids enjoy them, or something.

According to a piece at Education Week:

The Obama administration promised over the summer that it would direct states to develop plans for ensuring low-income kids get access to as many highly qualified teachers as their more advantaged peers—a key goal of the dozen-year-old No Child Left Behind Act that has largely gone unenforced.

Twenty-seven pages of new guidance released on the issue Monday appear to give states a lot of running room to figure out just what these equity plans should look like—without clear, strong federal levers in place for ensuring that states follow through.

Interested readers can check out the guidance from the Education Department here but it’s rather vague.

States should submit data on the percent of students that have “inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field” teachers (poor students compared to other students) and then “identify the steps the State Education Agency will take to eliminate the equity gaps” between poor and minority students and others.

That’s not a straight-up bad thing, but one of the problems here is that “inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field” is just about how long the teachers have been teaching and what courses they took to become teachers. None of this has anything to do with whether or not the teachers are any good.

What’s also unclear is what are useful steps to eliminating an equity gap. Should schools fire the teachers or make them take more classes or just move more unqualified teachers to teach middle class students in the state?

The Department might approve any of these strategies, but which one would be most likely to help students learn better in as little time as possible?

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, had perhaps the clearest reaction to this when she issued this statement in response to the guidelines:

We must… ask what strategies should be adopted to recruit, retain, and support great teachers, especially at hard-to-staff schools. We can start by ensuring teachers at these schools have the tools and conditions they need to do their jobs well—supportive, collaborative leadership; high-quality teaching materials; lower class sizes; up-to-date technology and facilities; and professional-development opportunities.

Well right, but if we knew how do to that effectively all across America there wouldn’t be an equity gap, would there?

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer