Every year, thousands of individuals take on one of the most important jobs: TEACHING. While new teachers bring energy and passion into their classrooms and schools, they can find themselves incredibly challenged as they learn how to plan and implement lessons, collect, and use data to inform their instructional practices, build relationships with students and families, manage classroom behavior, and meet the varying academic, social, and emotional needs of their students.

Teachers can face a steep learning curve in their first few years of teaching, and a significant percentage of teacher growth occurs in that very first year. As they gain more experience, they can play a big part in increasing student motivation, increasing homework completion, and even reducing student absenteeism. Ultimately, teachers are the No.1 predictor of student success inside the classroom, estimated to have two to three times the effect of any other in-school factor.

This is why having a teacher with more than just a year or two of teaching experience matters. And yet, students of color and students from low-income backgrounds are more likely to attend schools with greater numbers of inexperienced teachers than their peers. This disparity, the result of a variety of factors (i.e., centuries of systemic racism, housing segregation, and resource inequity), means that groups of students are missing out, by no fault of their own, on the critical learning opportunities necessary to prepare them for success in college and/or the workforce.

Right now, many students attend schools where they have a brand -new teacher year after year after year. This “revolving door” of teachers can deeply affect student learning. High turnover creates instability, making it difficult for schools to create coherent instruction and to implement new initiatives. To no surprise, inexperienced teachers and high teacher turnover disproportionately affect the achievement of students who are most underserved.

In our report, Getting Black Students Better Access to Non-Novice Teachers, our findings reveal whether these inequities are due to varying levels of teacher experience between the districts in a particular state or within a particular district. In either case, these disparities are not inevitable.

Our Findings

Finding 1a: Across the Country, Black Students are Assigned More Novice Teachers

Finding 1b: Across the Country, Black Students are More Likely to Attend Schools That Have High Percentages of Novice Teachers

Finding 1c: Not Only do Black Students Across the Country Have More Novice Teachers, but They Also Have More First-Year Teachers

Finding 2a: Across the Country, Black Students are Assigned More Uncertified Teachers

Finding 2b: Nationwide, Black Students are More Likely to Attend Schools That Have High Percentages of Uncertified Teachers (Greater Than 10%)

Finding 3: The Extent to Which Disparities in Student Access to Novice Teachers are Primarily Found Within Districts or Between Districts Varies Widely by State

State and district leaders and local school board members can set clear goals and identify and address barriers to preparing, recruiting, and retaining strong and racially diverse teachers. And school leaders can take steps to create working conditions that ensure teachers, including teachers of color, remain in schools and hone their craft.

We’ve put together a roadmap for success to aid state and district leaders make the necessary changes to address long-standing gaps in access to strong teachers.

Roadmap for Success

Establish Data Systems and Examine Data for Disparities

tate leaders should look closely at their data for patterns of disparities, as we did in this analysis; patterns can indicate which districts within states need further investigation and which can be held up as bright spots. This important step is predicated on a commitment by states to collecting, disaggregating, and publicly reporting teacher equity data, disaggregated by race, including:

  • Number of teachers who enter schools and districts, disaggregated by teacher prep programs
  • Number and percentages of teachers who are inexperienced, out of field, or ineffective
  • Number and percentages of substitute teachers by school and district
  • Teacher retention rates by teacher effectiveness, and experience, disaggregated by teacher prep program
  • Teacher climate surveys and exit surveys, disaggregated by teacher race, to understand the unique experiences of teachers of color in schools
  • Opportunities for high-quality professional development

Determine Whether Disparities are Due to Within- or Between-District Differences. Engage With Teachers to Determine the Root Causes of Disparities and Examine District Policies

Next, state leaders must determine the root causes of inequities, and whether they are being driven by differences within districts or between districts. As in Louisiana, state leaders must commit to listening to teachers and school leaders to examine the roots of inequities, including why teachers leave their schools or districts.

To be clear, inequities within schools exist as well. Too often, even within the same school, Black and Latino students are not assigned to experienced and qualified teachers due to decisions school leaders make about which courses students have access to and which teachers teach those courses. In other words, even in schools that look like they have a relatively experienced and qualified workforce, Black and Latino students may still be disproportionately assigned to courses taught by novice educators. This is especially true in middle and high schools, but there are significant differences even at the elementary level.

Set Clear Goals and Interim Measures of Progress

State leaders must make a plan that is informed by meaningful stakeholder engagement, with clear goals, evidence-based strategies, and a commitment to continually collect and report data that measures progress toward those goals. Establishing clear and numerical state and district goals that are ambitious and achievable, along with a clear timeline, will set the expectation that leaders at every level will be held accountable for ensuring students have access to strong teachers.

Implement Policy Solutions Based on Data

After taking an honest look at data and disparities, and setting a goal for meaningful progress, state leaders should enact evidence-based policy solutions to pave the way forward, keeping in mind whether disparities in their state are greater within districts or between districts. It’s important to note that there are many factors (e.g., whether a district is in an urban or rural area) that state and district leaders should consider when ensuring students have equitable access to strong teachers; within- versus between-district differences are just one potential cause. When addressing within- versus between-district differences, leaders could employ the following policies:

Invest in strengthening school leaders in high-need districts and schools. Principals and school leaders have a significant impact on school culture, and satisfaction with school leaders is key to retaining teachers in high-poverty schools. States should:

  • Ensure that standards for principal preparation programs and professional standards for principals reflect the necessary skills to improve achievement in struggling schools and for historically underserved groups of students.
  • Offer competitive grants for high-need districts to create principal pipelines for strategically preparing, hiring, developing, and supporting school leaders, and offer incentives to recruit strong school leaders to high-need schools.
  • Invest specifically in developing and supporting leaders of color, given the research showing that principals of color are more likely to recruit and retain teachers of color.
  • Provide professional development and supports (e.g., coaching) for leaders in high-need schools.

Invest in evidence-based Grow Your Own and high-quality residency programs. State leaders must invest in and encourage school districts to implement high-retention pathways, such as high-quality residency and Grow Your Own programs through strong partnerships between state-approved educator preparation programs and school districts. These programs may include support from community organizations and can increase access to high-quality pathways into the teaching profession for populations underrepresented in the workforce. Investments in these programs can address teacher shortages and minimize teacher turnover by providing supports on issues that many teachers, particularly teachers of color, cite as among the leading factors for leaving the profession.

Pay teachers more to work in high-need districts, schools, and subjects. While all teachers should be fairly compensated for the hard work they do, states can offer differential pay to entice excellent teachers to teach in districts and schools that need them most. This usually takes the form of a salary increase or stipend, although it could include housing incentives or loan forgiveness. Because staff salaries and benefits comprise the majority of district spending, funding inequities between districts often prevent districts serving more students from low-income households and students of color from offering competitive salaries that might attract and help retain high-quality teachers, especially for hard-to-staff positions. States should work to reduce the influence of neighborhood property values on school district budgets.

Support high-need districts in hiring early. In one recent study of a large urban district, nearly 20% of teachers were hired after the school year began. Late hiring may make it difficult for districts to recruit strong teachers, who have already accepted positions elsewhere. Teachers who start late don’t have time to plan and prepare and may struggle to create a positive classroom culture after students have been with an interim teacher or in a very large class. States should support districts struggling to recruit strong candidates to move up hiring timelines, which may include finalizing district budgets earlier in the year and reworking internal teacher transfer processes. States should also implement more holistic layoff policies that require or encourage districts to consider multiple criteria — including teacher seniority, performance, and licensure status, as well as school-specific needs— so that districts and schools with large percentages of novice teachers don’t experience disproportionate turnover in difficult economic times.

Provide teachers, especially novice teachers, with mentoring, support, and other professional learning opportunities. States could do this through competitive grants and by creating meaningful opportunities for teacher leadership, prioritizing roles in high-need schools and for educators of color. State leaders should encourage school and district leaders to create teacher leadership roles in high-need schools that allow strong teachers that have demonstrated experience successfully teaching students from low-income families and students of color to advance professionally while remaining in the classroom. For example, the Opportunity Culture (OC) initiative aims to extend the reach of highly effective teachers by restructuring P-12 schools and providing direct professional development, collaboration, and planning time for these educators. New teachers in OC schools receive deep support and regular coaching.

Develop networks of district leaders to problem-solve together. Communities of practice among district leaders can help practitioners learn from their peers about best practices for building strong data systems, setting goals for ensuring students of color have access to experienced and qualified educators, and supporting teachers and school leaders within districts with similar geographic and socioeconomic contexts.

Commit to Ongoing Data Transparency, Monitoring, and Holding Leaders Accountable

To ensure these policy solutions are being implemented with fidelity, state leaders must make sure they are holding district and school leaders accountable, and continuously collecting and publishing data to monitor for improvement. For example, Oregon publishes an Educator Equity Report every year that provides an “an updated review of the current research on recruitment and retention for educator diversity, recent data on Oregon’s educator workforce diversity, evidence of initiatives to create racially affirming and culturally sustaining environments among preparation and P-12 programs.” Tools like this help keep states on track to ensuring all students have access to strong teachers.