Teaching Inequality: How Poor and Minority Students Are Shortchanged on Teacher Quality

Liam Julian

Heather G. Peske and Kati Haycock
The Education Trust
June 2006

Education Trust collaborated with teams in three Midwest states (Illinois, Ohio, and Wisconsin), and in the largest school districts in each of those states (Chicago, Cleveland, and Milwaukee), to examine the distribution of high-quality teachers across schools. The teams will put out full reports later this summer, so this small report just highlights selected findings, which are depressingly familiar: students in predominantly poor and minority schools are less likely to have a high-quality teacher in their classrooms. Sometimes these teachers are novices (teaching less than three years) or relatively inexperienced (less than five years experience), and sometimes they have no background in the subjects they teach. In Wisconsin, for example, 25 percent of teachers in the highest-minority schools were novices, while the state's lowest-minority schools had 10 percent novice teachers. Low-performing schools in the Badger State "had approximately twice the percentage of novice teachers as high-performing schools." Why is this so? Partly because federal law contains a loophole that "allows districts to ignore disparities in teacher qualifications across different schools," and because teachers in urban schools are given no salary bonus for serving in more difficult environments. What's more, teachers with seniority oftentimes have first dibs on open jobs in cushier schools. Veteran teachers, therefore, abandon tough urban schools, leaving them mostly to rookie teachers. The goal of educational equity is thwarted. Is there any hope? Next month, every state is required to submit to the federal government a plan to make 100 percent of their teachers highly-qualified, with a special focus on high-poverty and high-minority schools. We already know that states have, in the past, used games to drastically inflate their highly-qualified numbers. This report hammers home exactly which students are most hurt by those actions. Read it here.

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