Disability advocates are protesting a move by the U.S. Department of Education that they say could leave students in the hands of poor-quality teachers.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan this week, a coalition of almost 100 civil rights and disability advocacy groups including the Council for Exceptional Children, The Arc and the National Down Syndrome Society, among others, blasted federal education officials for what they called “apparent backtracking” on measures to ensure that all children have access to good-quality teachers.

The issue harkens back to a provision under No Child Left Behind requiring that children from poor and minority groups are not disproportionately taught by less-experienced or less-qualified educators. More recently, when the Education Department granted states waivers exempting them from some of the law’s obligations, the so-called “teacher equity” requirements remained.

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However, members of The Coalition for Teaching Quality charge in their letter this week to Duncan that his department has done little to enforce the rule in recent years. They are further concerned by a letter from the Education Department to chief state school officers last month that backed off plans to require as a condition of the waivers that states use teacher-evaluation data to ensure that certain types of students are not disproportionately taught by ineffective teachers.

The current approach “misses a major opportunity to address one of the most significant issues facing public education,” the coalition said in its letter. “These waiver renewals are an excellent opportunity for the department to advance its equity agenda in a meaningful way.”

Children with disabilities and those from poor and minority backgrounds are least likely to be taught by the most qualified teachers, advocates say.