Monday, March 20, 2017

Can Title VI Offer Students More Equitable Access to Teachers?

A new student note by Noah B. Lindell, Old Dog, New Tricks: Title VI and Teacher Equity, 35 Yale L. & Pol'y Rev. 189 (2016), attempts to use Title VI as a lever for forcing more equitable access to teachers.  The introduction offers this summary:
What can the law do to improve teacher quality? In answering this question, one can be forgiven for thinking about regulation rather than litigation. At the federal level, most litigation-heavy education laws are antidiscrimination statutes, focused on protecting certain categories of students rather than on enforcing high teaching standards. Meanwhile, teacher quality has become a central aspect of education “policy” statutes. Lax teacher preparation standards and poor hiring policies, in particular, create challenges for the education system. Good teachers not only increase students' scores on standardized tests; they also can lower students' teen pregnancy rates, increase their likelihood of going to college, and raise their lifetime incomes. Replacing poor teachers with average ones can have similar effects. Yet white and wealthy students are far more likely to be taught by high-quality educators than are minority and economically disadvantaged students. The teacher quality crisis in the United States is real, and it contributes greatly to the broader woes of the American education system.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964--which is over half a century old, and which is primarily understood as an antidiscrimination provision--may offer a solution to this crisis. Title VI forbids racial discrimination in the provision of resources in federally funded programs. The U.S. Department of Education has recently made clear that teacher quality is, in fact, a resource covered by Title VI. This Note argues that Title VI complaints, investigations, and lawsuits can encourage (or force) districts to pursue policies that are designed to provide minority students with better teachers. While other scholars have discussed Title VI in relation to school discipline, assignment of students to special education, school finance, school reconstitution, and general educational discrimination, this is the first piece of legal scholarship to discuss Title VI in any depth in relation to teacher quality and teacher assignment.
Part I of the Note provides background on the racial and socioeconomic gaps that plague American education generally and access to good teachers in particular. Teacher quality is one of the most important factors contributing to student academic growth, yet recent attempts to alleviate these disparities through legislation have failed. Part II charts out a different course: the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice should make more aggressive use of Title VI to end unequal access to quality teachers. Part II explains the mechanics of Title VI and illustrates how Title VI investigations might play out in the teaching context. Parts III and IV then discuss a number of concerns that this new use of Title VI could generate. Part III lays out and resolves two issues related to the Title VI doctrinal test: how to measure teacher quality and how to handle state and school district defenses to allegations of discrimination. Part IV then tackles two larger concerns: (1) how to ensure that private parties will submit complaints to the Department of Education, as Title VI requires, while also guaranteeing that the potential flood of new claims will be promptly resolved; and (2) how the agencies can protect their Title VI guidance, and their disparate impact regulations, from legal challenge.

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