Getting good teachers to inner-city schools

In An Effective Teacher in Every Classroom on Education Next, Ed Trust’s Kati Haycock and Hoover economist Eric Hanushek discuss teacher quality. Do inner-city schools get the worst teachers? What can be done to get good teachers to work in low-performing schools?

Poor and minority students are much more likely to be taught by less-qualified and less-effective teachers — including first-year teachers — Haycock says.

When the Tennessee Department of Education analyzed the state’s Value-Added Assessment System—which measures the impact of individual teachers on their students’ tested academic growth—it found that “low-income and minority children have the least access to the state’s most effective teachers and more access to the state’s least effective teachers.” Recently, researchers at the University of Virginia studying teaching practices and learning climate in more than 800 1st-grade classrooms were dismayed to find that lower-income and nonwhite students are much more likely than their counterparts to be placed in “lower overall quality classrooms.”

. . . An analysis of data from Los Angeles found that . . . providing top-quartile teachers rather than bottom-quartile teachers for four years in a row would be enough to completely close the achievement gap between white and African American students.

But it’s hard to get highly effective teachers to work in high-need schools, unless there’s a highly effective principal who creates the conditions — order, a coherent curriculum, teacher collaboration — that make good teaching possible.

Asked about bonuses for teaching in tough schools, Hanushek made a good point:

There is a simple economic axiom that bad teachers like more money as much as good teachers. Providing higher salaries will do little to improve the quality of urban teachers or teachers of disadvantaged students unless this is coupled with a clearer judgment about effectiveness. If the objective is raising achievement, there is no real substitute for observing achievement and taking actions based on it.

We can’t judge teacher quality by indirect means such as certification, master’s degrees or years of experience after the first three, Hanushek says. We have to look at “objective achievement data and subjective evaluations,” such as observing teachers teach.

Trying to solve the quality problem by moving teachers around would be expensive and futile, argues Mike Petrilli.

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  1. Robert Wright says:

    Yes. Good points. Bad schools need good teachers and advanced degrees won’t tell you who is a good teacher.

    I have about five more years before I retire. Match my salary and benefits and give me a good principal and I will transfer to an inner city school. I’ll even commute a couple hours each way.

    Heck, give me a really good principal and I’ll take a cut in pay.

    Sadly, I don’t think I’ll get any offers.

    The concern doesn’t exist to match the money.

    Good people working in those conditions will continue to be missionaries.

  2. Yikes! This is probably true, but don’t you see the circularity here? Effective teachers are defined in terms of their students’ achievement gains. Students who (for whatever reason, including poor teaching but also including other issues) don’t make progress by definition don’t have effective teachers. Moving teachers around would provide a way of testing these alternatives, but it’s also very likely that there are teachers who are effective in one setting who would not be in another.

  3. As a first year teacher at an inner-city school, I think it is naive to think that these schools don’t have good teachers who would be way more effective in a better environment. If you took all the “good” teachers from the suburbs and switched them with inner-city teachers, I don’t think you would see a huge change like you would think.

  4. Joanne, I know that your blog is not a place for venting. I started off simply responding to the results of the study. . . but it ended up in sort of rant b/c I am tired of the perception of urban teachers being “ineffective.” So here goes . . .

    I teach at an urban school mentioned in the study and know FIRSTHAND what this study is about!

    It is not about the teachers being the worst ever. Most of the teachers in my school are really good. They work really hard. Everything is blamed on us, the teachers. But it is not solely the teacher’s fault. It is combination of things. Imagine a school filled with student apathy, parent involvement and support are joke and minimal resources.

    Now, everyone says that these Title I schools have additional monies to make them “equal” or comparable .. . but it is not the case. We hardly ever see these monies implemented–if it were the case, why in the WORLD would I have to purchase my copy paper.

    Let me tell you what happens around here and why people perceive teachers in urban districts as unqualified and ineffective:

    1. a teacher is hired, usually a young teacher, she is given a classroom, a set of teacher editions if she is lucky (i didn’t get any my first year, ended up calling the publishers, telling a sob story and got them by the second semester). And is told, “here is your classrooom.”
    2. These teachers are not mentored or supported. Basically, you figure things out as you go along or some older veteran teacher will give you a few hints along the journey. There is little time allowed within the work day for collaboration/mentorship. This is teacher is alone and is urged to figure it all out after having a sub-par teacher prep program. In most professions, there is a period of training or orientation, not so in urban teaching environments, it is a learn as you go process.

    3. This year my genius superintendent came up with the idea of only allowing teacher planning/conference times 2 to 3 times per week. This saved the district money. If were are going to be a effective teachers, we make up the difference in time at home-off the clock. Veteran teachers refuse to do this. Newbie teachers must do this or risk having inadequate lessons. We all know that GREAT teaching is the result of planning. But the almighty dollar comes before planning.

    4. Lastly, classes are LOADED with 35-50 students at the beginning of the school year b/c of poor and inadequate administrative planning. It takes approximately 3 months to get this all ironed out. During this time, classroom management/ discipline receives greater attention than the almighty curriculum. As a result students, lose time and skills. Smaller classes are more effective, especially in urban environments-but the admin does not see this, but this is not what happens in urban environments.

    Now, these are just a few of the issues facing teachers within my district. Let me tell you what happens to “ineffective” and unqualified teachers. At the end of the first year, 1/3 of them quit citing issues of discipline and lack of resources. It is clear that these teachers are NOT supported. Therefore another batch of inexperienced and “ineffective” teachers arrive at the school the next year.

    After 5 years, those teachers who were good and helping students to make achievements and “pass the test” quit. Yes, they quit. They find work somewhere else–I’ve seen it happen time and again. And it will happen again this year. Nobody is listening to urban school teachers. It is not about the money because most of us who enter the profession know what the $$$ are before saying yes. Paying teachers more will not solve these issues.

    This year, my school will lose approximate 25% of its staff due to the issues I’ve discussed here. Sadly, this is the cycle. This why education is soooo challenging in urban environments–lack of support that is needed by teachers in the environment. Hmmmph, yep, it is all our–the teachers-fault! (hope you hear the sarcasm)

  5. Concerned Citizen says:

    Most inner city schools are hard to staff because they have ineffective leadership teams who, over many years, have not done a good job of developing teachers and holding them accountable.

    What holds effective teachers from going to hard to staff schools are the low quality leaders and instructional teams those leaders have built over time. By offering higher salaries by school we would in effect be trying to bribe a teacher into working for a ineffective boss and with uninspiring colleagues. Effective teachers, however have their pick of principals to work for know this. Perhaps that is why CMS and others have found that they have to pay such a high amount to get teachers to transfer to hard to staff schools.

    Another strike against offering higher salaries by school is that doing so is strategically incoherent. If you believe it is up to the principal to build their teams and you hold them accountable for their results, then offering salaries to entice teachers to transfer out of their and into another school does a disservice to that principal of the school the teacher is leaving.

    A final strike against offering higher salaries for teaching in “hard to staff” schools is that any policy that in effect focuses on cutting up the pie but not growing it is doomed to create turf wars – parents whose loose an effective teacher to another school are likely to be angry.

    To get better quality teachers in “hard to staff” schools, district leaders need to turn over the ineffective leadership teams in those schools and outplace persistent under performing teachers in those schools. Then they can offer new recruits small, one-time bonus to come work for new leaders who have the building “under new management”.

    Policy levers cannot solve this. This is a management problem. Both KH and EH mention the need for “willpower”. So the key question is, what is holding district leaders back from doing what is outline above?

  6. I quit teaching for lower paying jobs with less security/benefits because I could not stand to work with an incompetent team of principals and admin. This is par for the course in NYC. Those jobs tend to attract typical gov’t workers…


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