Welcome to a new school year! A chance to learn new subjects, make new friends and be reminded anew of the disparities in education.
We've written a lot (see here, here, and here) about the mounting evidence of a particularly pernicious element of the achievement gap—that the quality of the person at the head of the classroom often varies depending on who's sitting in the desks. Dan Goldhaber and Roddy Theobald of American Institutes for Research and Lesley Lavery of Macalester College analyzed data from Washington State to take a more comprehensive look at whether disadvantaged students are being taught by the cream of the crop—or the bottom of the barrel. Unlike past studies, which generally only looked at one facet of teacher quality, this study is the first to include multiple measures of teacher quality and student disadvantage across districts, schools and classrooms.
Goldhaber, et al. found that no matter how they measured student disadvantage (free/reduced price lunch status, underrepresented minority status (defined as American Indian, black, or Hispanic), or scores in the lowest quintile of the previous year's state assessment), disadvantaged students lost out. They were more likely to have a teacher who had fewer years of experience, a lower licensure score and a low prior-year value added measure (VAM). The most consistent and significant gaps were at the district level, but some noteworthy gaps showed up among schools within a district and occasionally even between classes. The most pronounced difference was in 7th grade, where underperforming disadvantaged students were significantly more likely to be assigned the least effective teachers.
There is hope though—most of the significant disparities were at the district level, where policymakers have more leverage than schools to enact changes to attract more experienced and more effective teachers, especially in their hardest-hit grades. While the districts may never woo teachers as if they were top-tier athletes, incentives such as leadership opportunities, hybrid teaching roles, consistent effective leadership, job-embedded professional development and pay increases could entice highly effective educators to teach in high-needs districts.
Jessica teaches Latin in the DC Public Schools and spent her summer vacation as a Fellow at NCTQ. Thank you, Jessica!