Letter to U.S. Senate Committee on Proposed Amendments to ESEA

October 18, 2011

The Honorable Tom Harkin 
Chairman, U.S. Senate Committee on Health Education, Labor and Pensions

The Honorable Michael Enzi
Chairman, U.S. Senate Committee on Health Education, Labor and Pensions

Dear Chairman Harkin and Ranking Member Enzi,

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on your proposed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The New Teacher Project (TNTP) works with dozens of districts and states to increase access to outstanding teachers for high-need students. We are driven by the knowledge that effective teachers have a greater impact on student achievement than any other in-school factor. As an organization that has helped tens of thousands of talented people become teachers through non-traditional pathways, we are concerned by Senator Sanders’ proposed amendments on alternative teacher certification.

Since 1997, we have recruited or trained approximately 43,000 teachers, benefiting an estimated 7 million students. The vast majority of these teachers have been hired through highly selective “Teaching Fellows” programs that we operate in partnership with local school districts in cities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Denver and Washington, DC. These programs are comparable in selectivity to our country’s most prestigious universities, accepting only about 1 in 8 candidates, on average—and they are all “alternate routes to certification.” In many cities, Teaching Fellows account for 20 percent or more of all teachers hired annually.

From these programs have come teachers like Shira Fishman, a former engineer who became a math teacher through our DC Teaching Fellows program. Shira was named DC Public Schools’ 2011 Teacher of the Year and also awarded a 2011 Milken Educator Award, which Teacher Magazine has called “the Oscars of Teaching.” Her impact on McKinley Technology High School, where more than half of all students qualify for free or reduced price lunch, has been transformative. Thanks to her own teaching and her work as a coach for other teachers in the building, 87 percent of students tested at the school rank “proficient” or “advanced” in math, compared an average of 50 percent district-wide.

Unfortunately, programs like the DC Teaching Fellows and teachers like Shira may be in jeopardy if two amendments proposed by Senator Sanders are adopted in the reauthorization process. The first amendment would treat teachers who are still completing a certification program as not meeting the highly qualified teacher standard in the bill. This provision would have the effect of ending the recruitment of teachers through alternative certification, despite the fact that about 4 of 10 new public school teachers hired since 2005 have come through alternative teacher-preparation programs (Feistritzer, 2011). 

It is important to note that in some states, the highest performing teacher preparation programs could be shut down. In Louisiana, for example, the top producer of highly effective teachers for high-need schools in the state is our Louisiana Practitioner Teacher Program. Researchers at Louisiana State University and A&M College have shown that new teachers trained by the program are more effective than even veteran teachers in advancing student academic growth in three of five core subject areas: math, English language arts and science. The program has trained hundreds of teachers and earned more top ratings for effectiveness than any other university program in the state over the past four years. If it were to close, Louisiana’s schools would have no choice but to hire new teachers from programs with track records of lesser results.

Further, the end of alternate routes would reduce diversity in teaching. Several studies have shown that candidates of color, men, and older candidates participate disproportionately in these programs, as the out-of-pocket costs for entry tend to be lower and they are more flexible to the career needs of non-traditional individuals. In an industry desperately trying to diversify itself to better mirror the demographics and learning needs of American students, this amendment would have an unfortunate and undesirable effect.

The second amendment would require additional notification requirements to parents of students taught by alternatively-certified teachers. While we agree with the amendment’s goal of providing transparency to parents, we disagree with providing disclosure to the parents of individual teachers based on the teacher’s certificate route. Research has shown for decades that it is impossible to judge an individual teacher based solely on how he or she was certified. Within each program, there are stronger and weaker teachers, and among types of certification routes, there are stronger and weaker programs. We believe that sending disclosure letters without regard to an individual teacher’s contributions, skills, or performance would cause unwarranted alarm and be counterproductive and misleading.

For these reasons, we strongly urge the committee not to pass these amendments, which would undermine decades of effort at the state and local level to create quality alternative certification programs and turn future Shira Fishmans away from our schools. Instead, we urge the committee to pass standards that require ALL teacher preparation programs, traditional and alternative, to measure the outcomes of their teachers on student learning and disseminate those results to the public. It is by focusing on the outcomes of all new teachers and the providers that prepared them that we can ensure effective teaching in every classroom. 



Timothy Daly



CC:  Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee Members

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

About TNTP

TNTP is the nation’s leading research, policy, and consulting organization dedicated to transforming America’s public education system, so that every generation thrives.

Today, we work side-by-side with educators, system leaders, and communities across 39 states and over 6,000 districts nationwide to reach ambitious goals for student success.

Yet the possibilities we imagine push far beyond the walls of school and the education field alone. We are catalyzing a movement across sectors to create multiple pathways for young people to achieve academic, economic, and social mobility.

Learn More About TNTP