No Child Left behind and the Reduction of the Achievement Gap: Sociological Perspectives on Federal Educational Policy

By Alan R. Sadovnik; Jennifer A. O’Day et al. | Go to book overview

8
Teacher Quality, Educational Inequality,
and the Organization of Schools1

Richard M. Ingersoll

Few educational problems have received more attention in recent times than the failure to ensure that elementary and secondary classrooms are all staffed with qualified teachers. Since the mid-1980s, dozens of studies, commissions, and national reports have drawn attention to the importance of the qualifications and quality of the teaching force. This concern is understandable. Teachers are a particularly important educational resource, the largest single component of the cost of education in any country is teacher compensation and student educational outcomes ultimately depend on the work of teachers.

Not surprisingly, the issue of teacher quality has also been at the heart of the ongoing national debate over equity in education. Among those concerned with issues of educational inequity, it is widely believed that students from disadvantaged backgrounds do not have equal access to qualified teachers. At least since James Coleman’s seminal study, commentators, researchers, and policymakers have long held that the most needy students in the United States—especially those in schools serving poor, minority, and urban communities—are taught by the least qualified teachers (e.g., Coleman 1966; Darling-Hammond 1987; Dreeben and Gamoran 1986; Haycock 1998, 2000; National Commission on Excellence in Education 1983; Oakes 1990; Rosenbaum 1976). Disadvantaged school districts, these critics hold, are unable to match the salaries, benefits, and resources offered by more affluent schools and, hence, have difficulty competing for the more qualified teaching candidates. In turn, unequal access to qualified teachers and, hence, to quality teaching is considered a primary factor in the stratification of educational resources and opportunities to learn, and ultimately, unequal educational and occupational outcomes.

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