Academic journal article Education Next

An Effective Teacher in Every Classroom: A Lofty Goal, but How to Do It?

Academic journal article Education Next

An Effective Teacher in Every Classroom: A Lofty Goal, but How to Do It?

Article excerpt

Proposals to reauthorize No Child Left Behind seek to ensure "equitable" access to effective teachers. The U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top fund rewards state plans for "ensuring equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals" and for "ambitious yet achievable annual targets to increase the number and percentage of highly effective teachers ... in high-poverty schools." These objectives pose a number of challenging questions. How readily can we identify effective teachers? And, perhaps most crucially, what are promising strategies for seeking to increase the number of effective teachers in high-poverty schools and communities? Addressing these questions are two of the leading authorities on the topic: Education Trust chief Kati Haycock and Stanford University and Hoover Institution economist Eric Hanushek.

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Education Next: What is the evidence that inner-city schools are shortchanged on high-quality teachers?

Eric Hanushek: Inner-city schools and especially those serving the most disadvantaged students routinely display unacceptable achievement levels, ones that seal their students off from further education and from good jobs. Coupled with the general finding that effective teachers are the key to a high-quality school, it is natural to infer that the children most in need are systematically getting the poorest teachers.

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Unfortunately, direct evidence on the distribution of teacher quality and its impact for disadvantaged students is hard to come by. Researcher Marguerite Roza and others have produced considerable evidence that teachers in schools serving the most-disadvantaged students have lower average salaries, reflecting in large part the movement of more-experienced teachers away from schools with a higher proportion of minority students and with lower-achieving students. There is also evidence that these schools tend to have more teachers with emergency credentials and without regular certification, although this appears to be declining over time. The problem is that these readily measured attributes of teachers have virtually nothing to do with teacher effectiveness.

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Extensive research on teacher quality by me and others suggests that the only attribute of teacher effectiveness that stands out is being a rookie teacher. Teachers in their first three years do a less satisfactory job than they will with more experience. And this has an impact on schools serving highly disadvantaged populations, because the more-experienced teachers who leave these schools are generally replaced with new teachers. The net impact of this on disadvantaged schools is unclear, because there is also some evidence that the experienced teachers who leave these schools are on average not their most effective teachers.

Kati Haycock: No matter what measure of "quality" you look at, poor and minority students--and not just those in inner-city schools--are much less likely to he assigned better-qualified and more-effective teachers. Core academic classes in high-poverty secondary schools are twice as likely as those in low-poverty schools to be taught by a teacher with neither a major nor certification in the subject. The percentage of first-year teachers at high-minority schools is almost twice as high as the percentage of such teachers at low-minority schools. The list of disgraceful statistics goes on and on.

Even if we dismiss traditional measures as imperfect gauges of true teaching quality, new studies employing more-sophisticated measures reveal the same inequitable patterns. When the Tennessee Department of Education analyzed the state's Value-Added Assessment System--which measures the impact of individual teachers on their students' tested academic growth--it found that "low-income and minority children have the least access to the state's most effective teachers and more access to the state's least effective teachers. …

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