–Class-size data are elusive but it’s easy to calculate the student/teacher ratio in U.S. public schools, which has been below 17 to 1 since 1998. Even allowing for special ed, AP physics, and 4th year language classes with 5 kids in them, one may fairly ask why a country with fewer than 17 kids per public-school teacher remains obsessed with class-size reduction. (When I was in fifth grade, the national ratio was about 27:1.)
–Total expenditures per pupil in U.S. public schools reached $9,630 in 2003—up 23 percent in constant dollars over the previous 7 years. At 17 kids per teacher, that translates to almost $164,000 per teacher. Why, then, are teachers not terribly well paid? Because (using the NCES categories) the U.S. spends barely half of its school dollars on “instruction.”
About 20 percent of school children are Hispanic and 16 percent are black. In both groups, more than 70 percent of fourth graders come from low-income families and attend schools where most students are poor.
These high-poverty, high-minority schools get the lowest quality teachers, reports Education Trust in Teaching Inequality. Illinois researchers developed an index of teacher-quality “based on factors like teachers’ performance on college-admissions tests, the selectivity of the college they attended and the percentage of teachers in a school who failed the state’s certification exam.”
Illinois students in the highest-minority and highest-poverty schools are assigned teachers of significantly lower quality than their counterparts in schools that serve few low-income students and students of color.
The Illinois research also demonstrates the clear link between teacher quality and student achievement. In the highest-poverty high schools with high teacher-quality indices, twice as many students met state standards as did students in other similarly high-poverty high schools with low teacher-quality indices.
The Ed Trust report recommends paying more and offering paid sabbaticals to the best principals and teachers, if they work in high-poverty, high-minority schools, scaling back seniority systems that let teachers pick schools, letting struggling schools have first pick of teachers and “reserving tenure for those teachers who demonstrate effectiveness at producing student learning.”