TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

A silver lining in a cloudy study

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As eternal optimists, we're choosing to look on the bright side of a disheartening new study.

Researchers Jennifer Steele, Matthew Pepper, Matthew Springer and J.R. Lockwoodprovide additional evidence of educational inequities, finding that teachers with lower value added measurements (VAM) are more likely to teach at schools populated by mostly minority students—the same schools that also house a higher rate of more novice teachers and teachers with lower college GPAs. 

This graph depicts how the distribution of teachers dramatically changes as soon as one turns from a school with a mostly white population to one with a mostly minority population. The change is so sudden it's like a switch goes off.

However, the same study finds that once a teacher with a high VAM score starts teaching in a high-minority school, he or she is not more likely to leave—a trend inconsistent with the popular belief that once teachers prove themselves in urban or high-minority schools, they move on to suburban or lower-minority ones. 

Though the high-minority schools in the study reported relatively high teacher turnover rates, as is the case with most schools serving high numbers of minority students, the turnover is not due to an exodus of high-VAM teachers. The better teachers were no more likely to leave the school than other teachers. Some (non-statistically significant) numbers even suggested the opposite—higher VAM teachers were more likely to stick around in these high-minority schools once they got there. And even those high VAM teachers who did leave didn't go teach in lower-minority schools any more or less frequently than other teachers (though the researchers lost track of any teacher who left the district—which is why broader administrative data sets are very helpful in examining these questions).

Of course, these data come from a single unnamed school district, so it remains to be seen if these results are replicable. Count us excited, however, if this study is replicated and confirms that once we get highly-effective teachers into high-minority schools they are likely to stay.