Systematic Sorting: Teacher Characteristics and Class Assignments

The latest study by Susannah Loeb and colleagues examines teacher assignments within schools in Miami-Dade from 2004-05 through 2010-11. There are three main findings: First, less experienced, minority, and female teachers were more likely to be assigned to classes with low-achieving students than were their more experienced, male, or white colleagues. For instance, teachers with ten to twenty years of experience were sorted into classrooms where achievement was .10 to .20 standard deviations higher, relative to the students assigned to first-year teachers. Second, teachers who have held leadership positions and those who attended more competitive undergraduate institutions were also assigned higher-achieving students. Third, black teachers had the most challenging assignments, particularly when teaching in schools with more white colleagues. That all sounds pretty bad from an equity perspective, but it’s far from clear which if any of these patterns may be intentional. For instance, the gender gap is largely explained by the disproportionate number of female teachers who teach special education, and the racial differences may be partially due to the propensity of black and Hispanic teachers to be assigned more minority and poor students—which may be their preference and may in fact be a positive thing for their pupils. Furthermore, the study did not examine teacher effectiveness, so we can’t say for sure that lower-achieving or minority students got less effective teachers. In the end, patterns of teacher assignment are complex, likely resulting from a mix of teacher, parent, student, and principal preferences.

SOURCE: Demetra Kalogrides, Susanna Loeb, and Tara Béteille, “Systematic Sorting: Teacher Characteristics and Class Assignments,” Sociology of Education 86(2): 103–123 (2013).

Amber M. Northern, Ph.D.
Amber M. Northern, Ph.D. is a Senior Vice President for Research at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute