Press Release

WASHINGTON (July 7, 2014) — Deborah Veney Robinson, vice president for government affairs and communications at The Education Trust, issued the following statement on the U.S. Department of Education’s teacher equity strategy.

“We are encouraged by today’s announcement by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan of his intention to focus new energy on the problem of unequal access to quality teachers. For too long, our tendency to assign the strongest teachers disproportionately to our most advantaged students has compromised the futures of millions of low-income students and students of color.

Congress first outlawed this practice in 2002. But that provision of federal law has mostly been ignored. We hope today’s action marks a first step toward a fairer system by leaders at every level — national, state, and district.

To be sure, there are outstanding teachers in every community and every school. But the evidence is clear: Any way the data are analyzed — by teacher experience, content knowledge, churn, absenteeism, or effectiveness at growing student learning — low-income students and students of color get less than their white, more affluent peers. For example:

  • According to a national survey of teachers, core classes in our nation’s high-poverty schools are twice as likely to be taught by out-of-field teachers as are classes in low-poverty schools.
  • Researchers found that in Washington State, disadvantaged students get less than their fair share of the strongest teachers, regardless of the measure used.
  • An Ed Trust–West analysis shows that in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Latino and African American students are two to three times more likely to have low-performing teachers than their white and Asian peers.

As long as these teacher-quality gaps persist, we will never achieve our national values of equity and opportunity for all Americans. Thankfully, however, these gaps are not inevitable. There are concrete steps that states and districts can take to get strong teachers to the low-income students and students of color who need and deserve them.

As we start a serious conversation about the actions states and districts can take, it’s critical to note that ongoing work to improve teacher preparation, evaluation, and licensure is necessary and important. But it’s not enough. Raising the quality of the profession overall will not ensure that students of color and low-income students get more of the strongest teachers and fewer of the weakest ones. That will only happen with targeted action that expects, prioritizes, and removes barriers to equitable access.

Notably, some states and districts are already leading the way and can serve as exemplars.

  • The Delaware Department of Education conducted an analysis of teacher retention and found that the average teacher turnover rate in high-need schools was 23.6 percent — nearly 9 percentage points higher than in all other schools. This honest appraisal is allowing the state to focus on addressing inequities, starting with The Delaware Talent Cooperative, a program to attract and retain strong teachers in high-need schools through additional compensation, recognition, professional development, and leadership opportunities.
  • Florida prohibits districts from disproportionately assigning poorly performing and out-of-field teachers to the lowest performing schools.
  • In partnership with Teach Plus, Boston Public Schools and the District of Columbia Public Schools are working to attract and retain strong teachers to the lowest performing schools by providing opportunities for shared decision-making and career growth through formal teacher leadership roles.
  • Through its Strategic Staffing Initiative, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District has been working for years to get especially strong principals and teachers to its highest poverty schools.

These states and districts haven’t yet solved the problem of equitable access, but they’ve moved in the right direction by asserting responsibility and taking action. Done well, the U.S. Department of Education’s teacher equity strategy can make this kind of leadership the rule rather than the exception. The nation’s low-income students and students of color have already waited far too long for action.”

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