How the D of E Can Help Hurricane-Affected Schools

by Harry on September 11, 2005

As a result of the evacuation from New Orleans, thousands of displaced students around the country will be absorbed into elementary, middle, and high schools which are not ready for them. If the experience of my own city (Madison, WI) is anything to go by, these students are largely disadvantaged, and are being placed in neighborhoods which are also disadvantaged; and will hence attend schools with high proportions of disadvantaged students. Department of Education officials are figuring out what to do — according to Education Week there is talk of relaxing unspecified provisions of No Child Left Behind; there is some pressure to relax or waive adequate yearly progress (AYP) requirements for schools that take in refugees, and also to relax or waive the ‘Qualified Teacher in Every Classroom’ requirements.

I want to recommend that D of E officials would do well to resist some of this pressure. They should try to get their hands on some of the relief money, and use it to give schools both the incentive and the ability to meet the requirements. (If they do give into the pressure, they should, do this anyway). Specifically:

* Give schools which take evacuees totaling 2-5% of their previous student population funds which they can use to retain and attract qualified teachers (with incentive payments)

* Reward schools in this group which have increased their percentage of qualified teachers by February 2006 with flexible funds (which the schools could use, for example, for supplies, residential field trips, bonus payments to the teachers most affected, etc).

* Establish a program to incentivize qualified teachers who have left teaching to return to the classroom (in refugee-qualifying schools). The Department of Education could request current employers of such returning teachers to hold their jobs open for them for 24 months, and could pay the returning teacher the difference between her teachers’ salary and her non-teaching salary (again for 24 months).

AYP requirements are much criticized, and not without reason: in principle they seem, in practice they are of questionable use, if your aim is to evaluate school effectiveness. (The AYP requirements do have other benefits, which need not concern us here). But “a qualified teacher in every classroom” is a sensible requirement with an egalitarian dynamic. The objection that some non-qualified teachers are better than many qualified teachers is true, but irrelevant. A PhD in Math, or Physics, beats a 6-12 teaching certificate any day in my book. But the schools with high proportions of low income students which have too few qualified teachers do not have, instead, a surfeit of Math and Physics PhDs in their classrooms. They have trouble recruiting any teachers, let alone good ones, and trouble holding onto the good ones, who can earn more money in fancier school districts, and can have more manageable working conditions in the more middle-class schools within their own districts (which are also more likely to within more manageable commuting distance of their own middle-class homes), and into which they will find it relatively easy to transfer because of the transfer rules in the employment contract. These schools (the ones in which the evacuees are most likely to be placed) suffer high teacher turnover and find it hard to attract and keep appropriately qualified teachers. The first funding priority for educational progressives should be getting more money into schools with high proportions of low income kids; the second should be enabling those schools to use some of that money to retain and attract the best teachers. Incentive payments are crucial for this. Department of Education officials should lobby the President for funds to enable them to do this, for the sake of the displaced children, and the disadvantaged children they will join.

Teacher retention is a more generally serious problem. About half of all qualified teachers leave teaching within the first five years — there are plenty of qualified teachers out there, not teaching: working in more lucrative professions with easier working conditions. Some, at least, of these people will be wanting to do something concrete to help the relief effort; the D of E should be encouraging them to return to the classroom, and should enable them to do so without sacrificing the chance to return to their current careers, and without making major financial sacrifices. (The point is to encourage people actually to do it who otherwise wouldn’t, and to share the sacrifice a bit)

Why limit help to schools which expand by 2-5%? The range is somewhat arbitrary, but the basic idea is this. Schools should be encouraged to take a critical mass of students, so that they do not feel isolated (hence 2%). But they should be discouraged from expanding too much; people of good will might be tempted to try and help more students than they, in fact, can: an expansion of 5% is a lot to absorb in one year, and schools should not be rewarded for overstepping their capabilities.

All this is only feasible if union officials do not fight it. It will be much easier to win their support if the money for these measures is seen as new to the system, as it were: extra money, rather than coming from existing expenditure. Hence the need to lobby the President to turn some of the relief funds to this purpose. The suggestions here are consistent with the general idea behind NCLB, though: so he should be amenable to them.

(Note: slightly edited from original to facilitate easier reading)



Eli Rabett 09.11.05 at 4:06 pm

Before you endulge in such tripe you need to clearly understand the purpose of the No Child Left Behind act: To destroy public education. By setting goals that no school can honestly reach, limiting the applicability of the act to public schools, and cutting funding Bush has set a trap so that in a decade all public schools will have been declared to fail.

Trying to fish something useful out of that stinking stew is to support its goal.


Laura 09.11.05 at 5:59 pm

Harry you wrote: “About half of all qualified teachers leave teaching within the first five years—there are plenty of qualified teachers out there, not teaching: working in more lucrative professions with easier working conditions. ”

I have some concerns about luring back the former teachers. I’m not sure that these teachers left for more lucrative jobs. They might have been bad teachers even though they had passed all the necessary coursework. They couldn’t handle discipline problems or couldn’t think on their feet or something else. Others could have stopped teaching because they started families. The new parents might need different incentives to get them back in the classroom.

Otherwise, I think it’s a fine plan. The lack of the funds was the main problem that the unions and other Democratic leaders had with NCLB. Early on, Bush had Ted Kennedy and others on board when they thought that it was going to be well funded.


jet 09.12.05 at 7:40 am

Eli Rabett,

By setting goals that no school can honestly reach…

So there aren’t any schools that meet the qualifications for No Child Left Behind?


harry b 09.12.05 at 9:19 am


the long run progress demanded probably couldn’t be sustained by any school other than ones that started off very bad and ended up very good.

My view, for what its worth (and having seen it all before) is that the goals will be revised down as it becomes clearer to the D of E and, more importantly, State departments of instruction, as that they are unrealistic. As that happens, they will be more valuable — especially from an egalitarian perspective, in that they help to focus the attention of school districts and, more importantly, State Departments of Instruction, on the least well served and most disadvantaged populations. To be honest, the Republicans have no interest in dismantling a system of public schooling which serves their own natural voters very well indeed.

Thanks Laura — I did think of that as I wrote it, but thought that probably only people who were eager to return to teaching would want to do it in these circumstances. But mainly I wanted to keep it simplish, in hopes of it getting some attention…


Laura 09.12.05 at 12:59 pm

Harry writes — To be honest, the Republicans have no interest in dismantling a system of public schooling which serves their own natural voters very well indeed.

Excellent point.

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