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Distribution data should show more than just teachers' years of experience and highly qualified status.
The first step in addressing the distribution of teachers is bringing transparency to the issue. States generally report little more than what is required by No Child Left Behind, which highlights years of experience and HQT status. However, while teaching experience matters, the benefits of experience are largely accumulated within the first few years of teaching. School districts that try to equalize experience among all schools are overestimating its impact. There is no reason why a school with many teachers with only three or five years' experience cannot outperform a school with teachers who have an average of more than 10 years' experience.
For this reason, states need to report data that are more informative about a school's teachers. As more states require evaluation systems based primarily on teacher effectiveness (see Goal 3-B), the most important distribution data that state can make available is school-level data about teacher performance. This is not to say that individual teacher ratings should be reported, but school level data would shine an important light on whether all students have access to effective teachers.
In the absence of teacher performance data that reflects evidence of student learning, states can still provide meaningful information by using an index for quantifying important teacher credentials found to correlate with student achievement. A good example of a strong index is the academic capital index developed by the Illinois Education Research Council, incorporating teachers' average SAT or ACT scores; the percentage of teachers failing basic skills licensure test at least once; the percentage of teachers on emergency credentials; average selectivity of teachers' undergraduate colleges and the percentage of new teachers. These factors are complicated, so the state should install a system that translates them into something more easily understood, such as a color-coded matrix indicating a high or low score for a school.
States need to report data at the level of the individual school.
Only by achieving greater stability in the staffing of individual schools can districts achieve the nation's goal of more equitable distribution of teacher quality. A strong reporting system reflecting the index described above, as well as data on teacher attrition, teacher absenteeism and teacher credentials can lend much-needed transparency to those factors that contribute to staffing instability and inequity.
The lack of such data feeds a misconception that all high-poverty schools are similarly unable to retain staff because of their demographics. If collected and disaggregated to the level of the individual school, however, such data could shift the focus of districts and states toward the quality of leadership at the school level and away from the notion that instability and inequity are unavoidable consequences of poverty and race. Variations in staff stability are huge among schools with similar numbers of poor and/or minority children. School culture, largely determined by school leadership, contributes greatly to teacher morale, which in turn affects teacher success and student achievement. By revealing these variations among schools facing the same challenges, school leadership can be held accountable—and rewarded when successful.
Within-district comparisons are crucial in order to control for as many elements specific to a district as possible, such as a collective bargaining agreement (or the district's personnel policies) and the amount of resources.
Equitable Distribution: Supporting Research
For comprehensive review of the literature on teacher quality and distribution, see Jennifer King Rice, "The Impact of Teacher Experience: Examining the Evidence and Policy Implications", Calder Institute, August 2010, Brief 11. For more about how poor and minority children do not get their fair share of high-quality teachers, read L. Feng and T. Sass, "Teacher Quality and Teacher Mobility.", Calder Institute, Working Paper 57, January 2011; T. Sass, J. Hannaway, Z. Xu, D. Figlio, and L. Feng, "Value Added of Teachers in High-Poverty Schools and Lower-Poverty Schools," Calder Institute, Working Paper 52, November 2010; and Education Trust, Teaching Inequality: How Poor and Minority Students are Shortchanged on Teacher Quality (Washington, DC: Education Trust, June 6, 2006).
Education Trust also produced an analysis of the first set of state Equity Plans that pointed out the inadequacies of most states' data systems to produce reliable information about teacher qualifications and experience levels in schools disaggregated by poverty and racial composition of schools. Although almost all states were required to resubmit their plans and earned approval for them, many of the shortcomings of state data systems remained. For example, few states are equipped to identify by school, teachers' years of experience, meaning they cannot identify the ratio of new teachers to the full school staff. See Education Trust, Missing the Mark: States' Teacher Equity Plans Fall Short (Washington, DC: Education Trust, August 10, 2006).
For an example of a teacher quality index, see B. White, J. Presley, and K. DeAngelis, Leveling Up: Narrowing the Teacher Academic Capital Gap in Illinois, Illinois Education Research Council, Policy Research Report: IERC 2008-1, 44 p.; http://www.siue.edu/ierc/publications/pdf/IERC2008-1.pdf.
For more about teachers' effectiveness in the early years of teaching, see Identifying Effective Teachers Using Performance on the Job by R. Gordon, T. Kane, and D. Staiger at: The Hamilton Project, http://www.brookings.edu/views/papers/200604hamilton_1.pdf, April 2006; See also Jennifer King Rice, Teacher Quality: Understanding the Effectiveness of Teacher Attributes (Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute, 2003).