Analysis: Schools with high proportions of students of color face teacher quality inequities

20 Feb
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African-American teacher

A new analysis finds that, both across the nation and in California, teachers in schools with high proportions of students of color are much more likely to be uncertified or inexperienced than teachers in schools with a low number of students of color.

The Learning Policy Institute’s report, Inequitable Opportunity to Learn: Student Access to Certified and Experienced Teachers, uses the U.S. Department of Education’s two most recent years of Civil Rights Data Collection — 2014 and 2016 — to illustrate the troubling gaps. Considering the strong connection between teacher quality and student achievement, the report’s authors find that these factors must be addressed if any significant gains are to be made in narrowing achievement gaps.

“These inequities in student access are especially concerning, since achievement gaps between students of color and white students are substantially explained by the inequitable access to high-quality teachers,” the report states. “Therefore, understanding the extent of the inequities in student access to high-quality teachers and targeting resources to address those inequities are critical to closing achievement gaps.”

The key national findings:

  • In 2016, 4.8 percent of teachers in schools with high numbers of students of color were uncertified, as opposed to 1.2 percent of teachers in schools with a low number of students of color. Similar gaps exist across rural/town schools (4.3 percent compared with 1 percent), suburban schools (2.8 percent compared with 1.6 percent) and urban schools (6.1 percent compared with 2.2 percent).
  • In 2016, the percentage of inexperienced teachers in schools with high student of color enrollment was 17.2 percent, nearly twice as high as the 9.1 percent of teachers who were inexperienced and teaching in schools with low student of color enrollment. Similar to the data on uncertified teachers, these gaps also exist across rural/town schools (16.4 percent compared with 9.3 percent), suburban schools (14.9 percent compared with 8.3 percent) and urban schools (18.8 percent compared with 8.3 percent).

A “certified” teacher is one who has met all applicable state teacher certification requirements for a standard certificate, license or endorsement issued by the state. An “inexperienced” teacher is a teacher who has less than three years of classroom experience. The report finds that recent teacher shortages have exacerbated inequities because shortages can often lead to the hiring of underprepared teachers.

In 13 states (Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Kansas, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Washington), there are about twice as many inexperienced teachers in schools with high enrollment of students of color compared to the share of inexperienced teachers in schools with low enrollment of students of color. And in five states (Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Rhode Island and Tennessee), there are at least three times as many inexperienced teachers in schools with high enrollment of students of color compared to the share of inexperienced teachers in schools with low student of color enrollment.

Eye on California and recommendations for progress

While faring better than several states, California’s students face these same inequities. In 2016, in schools with high proportions of students of color, 2.5 percent of teachers were uncertified; that compares to 1.1 percent of uncertified teachers in schools with low student of color enrollment.

California also sees a higher percentage of its inexperienced teachers working in schools with a high student of color enrollment (11.3 percent of teachers) compared with those found in schools with a low student of color enrollment (9.8 percent). However, the state’s gap between those figures is considerably smaller than the national average of 8.1 percent.

In addressing the connection between teacher quality and student success, Inequitable Opportunity to Learn draws upon the Learning Policy Institute’s recent spotlight on California districts that are beating the odds. “The study found that teacher qualifications were the most important school-related predictors of student achievement, with the percentage of teachers holding substandard credentials significantly and negatively associated with student achievement for all students,” authors note.

Among the recommendations to address these vast inequities in teacher quality and experience, the report offers: strengthening federal policies such as the Every Student Succeeds Act to encourage more equitable distribution of teachers; strengthening educator pipelines with programs such as service scholarships and loan forgiveness programs; creating more equitable state funding levels across school districts; providing novice teachers with more mentoring, support and professional development; and supporting principal training at the state and local levels to improve relationships and working conditions.

“Without making significant investments in educator quality, gaps in student achievement will never be fully addressed, and providing each and every child the opportunity to reach their full potential will remain that much more difficult,” the report concludes.

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