Of the many inequities in our education system, gaps in access to strong teaching have proven to be among the most stubborn. That’s not to say that there aren’t excellent teachers in our high-poverty schools — there absolutely are. But research shows an indisputable and wide-spread pattern in schools and districts across the country: Low-income children and children of color do not have the same access to strong, consistent teaching as their White and higher-income peers.

Although district and school leaders make many of the decisions about recruiting, hiring, assigning, and supporting teachers, state education officials also have a critical role to play in addressing disparities in teaching quality.

Here are five ways, drawn from promising equity-focused initiatives, state education leaders can incentivize and support leaders in districts — both traditional and charter —to remedy inequities in access to strong teachers.

Lessons from States and Districts

Be transparent about which students get which teachers

As the keepers of data systems, leaders in state departments of education are uniquely positioned to provide district and school leaders — and the public — with transparent information on patterns in assignment to strong teachers at the district, school, and classroom levels, potential causes of these patterns, and their impact on children.

Set clear improvement expectations for leaders at all levels and make meeting those expectations matter

State leaders must set clear expectations, with numeric goals and timelines for eliminating inequities in assignment to strong teachers. And they must make those expectations matter to their own staff, district leaders, and school leaders.

Target resources to the districts and schools struggling most with this issue

If state leaders want districts to take action on this issue, they’re going to have to provide some real support. Of course, state education agencies are responsible for serving all districts, but they must prioritize support to the districts and schools that need the most help.

Develop networks of district leaders to problem-solve together

Staff at the state department of education is an important source of support for districts struggling to give equitable access to strong teaching to all students — but staff members aren’t the only source. State leaders have an important role to play in helping district leaders learn from one another.

Break down silos between efforts to increase access to strong teaching and school improvement work

Too often, the lowest performing schools tend to be the ones with teachers with the fewest resources and the least support. Also, less equity-oriented school leaders often fail to assign students who need the most support to the strongest teachers. Because these disparities are a key driver of schools’ underperformance, state officials must integrate work to increase equitable assignment to strong teachers and school improvement efforts.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to ensure that low-income students and students of color are not served at disproportionate rates by inexperienced, out-of-field, or ineffective teachers. As state leaders implement ESSA, they must move beyond generic improvement strategies to include strong, equity-focused action. Each of the strategies outlined above, and explained in detail in the full report are good places to start.

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