Press Release

(Washington, D.C.) In a December 1 letter, Kati Haycock, director of The Education Trust, invited 15 national education leaders to join in a national effort to ensure that low-income and minority students have teachers who are at least as qualified, experienced and effective as the teachers teaching other students.

“No matter how you cut the data-certified vs. uncertified teachers, out- vs. in-field teaching, high scores vs. low scores on licensure exams, or experienced vs. inexperienced teachers-our most vulnerable children are the clear and consistent losers,” Haycock said in the letter.

“The data could not be more clear or compelling. Nothing matters more than teacher quality. If there is one thing that will do more than anything else to close the academic achievement gap it’s closing the teaching talent gap,” Haycock noted in releasing the letter.

In her letter, Haycock asked each of the recipients to kick off the national effort by contributing an article on the subject to the Spring 2000 issue of The Education Trust publication Thinking K-16.

Haycock acknowledged the problem is complex and that a variety of forces have shaped these patterns including:

  • And a culture within teaching – at both the K-12 and Higher Education levels – that says that one’s status in the profession is primarily a function of how elite one’s students are.
  • Inadequate supplies of high quality teachers who want to teach in high poverty schools.
  • Differences within schools, when teachers fight over who has to teach whom.
  • Differences within districts as a result of seniority transfer provisions in district/union contracts.
  • Differences among districts in the resources they have to pay teachers.

“Yes, this is a complicated problem. But acknowledging its complexity and accepting its inevitability are two quite different things. If we don’t get this problem out on the table and solve it, many kids just won’t have a chance.

“The Education Trust is addressing this issue in the same way that we address every issue: head-on and relentlessly. However, the complexity of the issue – the fact that there are so many forces working together to create the problem – demands that multiple forces join together to solve the problem. That’s why we are reaching out to each of these leaders and their organizations, because each holds a critical and unique piece of the solution,” Haycock concluded.


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Key Facts about Teacher Quality and the Teacher Talent Gap

Teacher quality matters…a lot

  • In North Carolina, Robert Strauss and Elizabeth Sawyer found that a 1% increase in teacher scores on the state’s initial teacher licensing exam would bring about a 5% decrease in the number of North Carolina students failing the state’s academic competency tests.
  • A large-scale Texas study conducted by Ronald Ferguson of Harvard University found that teacher quality – as measured by education, experience, and test scores on initial teacher licensing exams – has more impact on student achievement (explained some 43% of the variance) than any other single factor, including family income and parent education.
  • In Tennessee, William Sanders of the University of Tennessee found that students who scored at roughly the same level on mathematics tests in third grade were separated by differences of as much as 50 percentage points on sixth grade tests depending on the quality of the teachers to whom they were assigned. Scoring differences of this magnitude can represent the difference between placement in the “remedial” and “accelerated” tracks.
  • Economist Eric Hanushek found that “the difference between a good and bad teacher can be a full grade level of achievement” in the course of a single school year.

Low-income students and students of color are much less likely than others to have well qualified teachers.

  • Nationally, 22% of the classes in high-minority secondary schools are taught by teachers without a college major in the subject area, while only 16% of the classes in low-minority secondary schools are so taught.
  • Nationally, 25% of the classes in high-poverty secondary schools are taught by teachers without a college major in the subject area, while only 15% of the classes in affluent secondary schools are so taught.
  • In Texas, John Kain and Kraig Singleton found that African American and Latino students were far more likely than others to be taught by teachers who scored poorly on the state’s initial teacher licensure exam. Indeed, as the percentage of non-white children in a school increased, the average teacher test score declined.

(letter attached, 3 pages)

December 1, 1999

Linda Darling-Hammond

Stanford University

School of Education

520 Galvez Mall, Room 310

Stanford, CA 94305

Dear Linda:

I am writing to enlist your help.

As you know only too well, few topics are receiving more attention in the policy arena these days than teacher preparation. The twin pressures of preparing more teachers and preparing them better for the demands of teaching all students to higher standards are grabbing-and holding-the attention of policymakers, education leaders, and the public at large.

Like you, I am hopeful that many of the changes proposed or enacted to date will increase, over time, the number of teachers well prepared to teach in a standards-based system. However, I am terribly worried that we are not doing nearly enough to address the serious inequities in teacher quality that are limiting the educational horizons of too many poor and minority students right now.

National data make it very clear that poor and minority children are taught by more than their fair share of our weakest teachers. No matter how you cut the data-certified vs. uncertified teachers, out- vs. in-field teaching, high scores vs. low scores on licensure exams, or experienced vs. inexperienced teachers-our most vulnerable children are the clear and consistent losers.

Yet despite clear evidence that these inequities contribute mightily to the gap between groups, most “reform” proposals are silent on this issue. Indeed, a sense of inevitability about existing patterns seems to permeate much of the reform work-as though the only thing we can do for poor children is to raise the floor in teacher preparation, because their schools will always draw disproportionately from the bottom of the pool.

When we try to engage our local and state partners in thinking through how they might change current patterns, they often seem overwhelmed. They understand-as we do-that there are a number of different forces behind the current inequities, and they seem paralyzed in the face of such complexity. But acknowledging the complexity of the various forces and accepting their inevitability are two quite different things.

The question is whether we might help counteract inevitability and complacency by working together to: unravel the problem, suggest direct strategies to address the major causes, share widely what some communities are doing about it, and otherwise call folks to action on this issue?

I know that this problem concerns you and that you undoubtedly already are working on it in some way. My hope is that, by pooling our energies and sharing examples from our local work, we can move things further and faster.

If you are willing to lend your energy and expertise to a larger effort to assure that poor and minority children are taught by teachers of at least the same quality as other children, there will be a variety of ways in which we can work together. I am eager to meet and explore them. As a first step, though, I’m asking you to help kick off this initiative by writing (by January 21,1999) a 500-700 word article for the Spring issue of our periodical Thinking K-16 setting forth (1) how you think about this matter; (2) what some of your local affiliates are doing – something important and measurable – to turn old patterns around; and (3) additional steps that you-as the leader of a national organization-will take in the next year to combat the problem. I am extending the same invitation to a variety of other important leaders, including those listed on the attached page.

I look forward to hearing from you. As an organization, we’ll be tackling this problem in the same way we tackle everything else: head-on and relentlessly. We will expose the problem and its impact on students in every forum available to us and will shine a spotlight on those with the will and the wisdom to work to change existing patterns. But by working together to flesh out concrete strategies and engage folks in doing what it takes to solve this problem, we will affect the lives of far more children than if we each work separately.


Kati Haycock



Other invitees include:

  • Bob Chase, National Education Association
  • Sandra Feldman, American Federation of Teachers
  • Gordon Ambach, Council of Chief State School Officers
  • David Imig, American Assocation of Colleges of Teacher Education
  • Don Langenberg, National Association of System Heads
  • Hugh Price, National Urban League
  • Raul Yzaguirre, National Council of La Raza
  • Steve Kest, ACORN
  • Anne Bryant, National School Boards Association
  • Wendy Purifoy, Public Education Network
  • Kelly Butler, Parents for Public Schools
  • Susan Traiman, Business Roundtable
  • Linda Darling-Hammond, National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future
  • Paul Houston, American Association of School Administrators
  • Ted Sanders, Education Commission of the States