As part of its efforts to ensure that all students have equal access to a quality education, today the U.S. Department of Education is announcing the launch of the Excellent Educators for All Initiative. The initiative will help states and school districts support great educators for the students who need them most.
The 2003 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law contained language that required that states place, “highly qualified” teachers in front of every classroom. That section of the law has been largely ignored since the passage of the statute, the emphasis has been on accountability, requiring tests in English and Mathematics in grades 3 – 8, requiring tests in English, Mathematics and Science to graduate high school and closing, transforming (replacing half the staff) or converting schools to charter.
Today, Education Secretary Duncan announced, “… systemic inequities exist that shortchange students in high-poverty, high-minority schools across our country… Local leaders and educators will develop their own innovative solutions … on how to better recruit, support and retain effective teachers and principals for all students, especially the kids who need them most.”
The US Department of Education Effective Educators for All Initiative requires Chief School Officers to “… consult with teachers, principals, districts, parents and community organizations to create new, comprehensive educator equity plans that put in place locally-developed solutions to ensure every student has effective educators” by April, 2015.
The presser goes on provide data: in Louisiana, Tennessee and North Carolina students in high poverty schools are considerably more likely to be taught by less effective teachers.
There are many research studies showing that “less effective” teachers are more commonplace in high poverty, low performing schools.
The Fordham Institute refers to a study supports the Duncan premise on the district level,
“Access to Effective Teaching for Disadvantaged Students,” examined fourth through eighth grade test scores over three year spans across twenty-nine large school districts. Generally, the researchers found that low-income students experienced less effective teaching than their higher-income peers. The main culprit: the unequal distribution of effective teachers across school buildings within a district. In contrast, the analysts detected more equal access to effective teaching within a school building. Hence, there is little evidence to suggest that school-level principals systemically assign the least effective teachers to the most disadvantaged students.
A Stanford study examines teacher preferences,
We find that teachers show preferences for schools that are closer geographically, are suburban, have a smaller proportion of students in poverty and, for white teachers, have a smaller proportion of minority students.
Another Stanford study examines school characteristics and teacher choices,
A substantial body of research demonstrates that schools with large populations of poor, non-white and low-achieving students, on average have more difficulty attracting and retaining teachers (Boyd et. al., 2005; Boyd et al, 2009; Hanushek et. al., 2004; Ingersoll, 2001; Scafidi et. al., 2007). However, little work assesses the extent to which differences in the neighborhoods in which schools are located either affect teacher recruitment and retention or explain the observed relationship between school characteristics and teachers’ career choices … The analyses show that while school characteristics are more salient than neighborhood characteristics, neighborhoods do affect teachers’ choices. In particular, the income of neighborhood residents and the amenities available near the school both affect teachers’ decisions of where to teach, particularly in urban areas with high population-density.
In New York City hiring decisions are made at the school site by the principal; under the Open Market any teacher can move to any school, there is no question that teachers perceived as more effective are recruited by higher achieving schools and the teacher attrition rate is far higher in low poverty, low performing schools.
Ironically the frequently reviled seniority transfer plan sharply limited the movement of teachers.
In my own experience while I found that high poverty schools frequently have highly motivated, caring teachers, there were too many who I view as mediocre. Elite schools with selective student bodies commonly have more highly skilled teachers who frequently honed their skills in high poverty schools.
Would the highly skilled teachers currently in elite schools be as effective teaching in low poverty, low performing schools?
Should we tighten the rules and make it more difficult to transfer schools?
High poverty, low achieving schools commonly have high rates of teacher attrition, are they recruiting the “wrong” candidates, or, are the more skilled teachers fated to move to schools with more highly skilled students?
One possibility is use financial incentives; a research study examines a bonus program,
… teachers were offered a $10,000 per-year bonus for two years to transfer into a distressed school within their district. The study found that the transfer incentive had a positive, significant impact on elementary students’ math and reading test scores. The estimated impact moved the typical pupil up four to ten percentile points, relative to their statewide peers. (Caveat, though, the impact was detectable only in elementary classrooms not in middle school ones.)
New teachers begin their careers in hard-to-staff schools, that’s where the jobs are. The Duncan press release tells us,
Nationally, according to the Department’s Civil Rights Data Collection, black and American Indian students are four times as likely as white students to be enrolled in a school with more than 20% first year teachers, and Latino students are three times as likely.
I would argue that “black, Latino and American Indians” are more likely to be treated by the newest doctors with the lowest scores on whatever exams doctors take, “black, Latino and American Indians” are represented in civil and criminal proceedings by lawyers with lower standing in their law school class and from less prestigious law schools.
These are no rationales or excuses; they are realities of living in an America in 2014, the age of inequality.
We should hire and support more effective principals and teachers, we should fund high poverty schools at appropriate levels, we should encourage linking schools of education to specific schools, and, most importantly we should view schools as part of their communities and expand the community school concept.
For kids living in neighborhoods without any jobs, in neighborhoods in which public assistence is generational, in neighborhoods were the gangs provide stability and a family, the school system and city leadership must look beyond reading and math scores.
School appears irrelevant if there is no belief that a job awaits at the end of the process.
Educating, recruiting, training and retaining teachers require a school system and a school that supports teachers and school leaders.
For the past dozen years educators have been disrespected, every “reform” blames public schools, public school teachers and their union.
Until the plutocrats, the elites change their attitudes teachers will look for places where they are respected and schools that offer job satisfaction. As long as the wealthy support lawsuits attacking tenure and see charter schools as “the answer” teaching in high poverty schools will not attract and retain the “best and the brightest.”
It would be welcoming for Obama and Duncan to support teacher tenure and teacher unions. It would be wonderful if unions could invite Duncan to national conventions instead of passing resolutions asking him to resign.
The proclamations from on high, from the aeries of Washington do not resonate on the mean streets and classrooms of Brownsville and South Central LA.