New Report on Teachers: Students Who Need the Most Don’t Get the Best

The Education Trust
Nov 2010


Students in high-poverty schools are still disproportionately taught by out-of-field and rookie teachers, according to “Not Prepared for Class,” a new report from The Education Trust.  While inequity in teacher assignment patterns mark inner-city and rural schools – notably in mathematics – gaps in access to in-field teachers actually are widest in our nation’s suburbs and small towns. 

In fact, nearly ten years since No Child Left Behind passed with provisions to equalize access to strong teachers – particularly for the kids who need it most – progress has been disappointingly slow. An analysis of the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Schools and Staffing Survey shows the following patterns:

  • In high-poverty secondary schools, core academic classes (English/language arts, mathematics, science, and history/social studies) are almost twice as likely to be taught by out-of-field teachers as are those classes in low-poverty schools.
  • In our high-poverty middle and high schools, one out of every five core classes is assigned to an out-of-field teacher. One in four middle and high school mathematics courses in high-poverty schools is taught by an educator with neither a math major nor certification in the subject.

Our nation’s schools also have failed to make progress on equity in teacher assignments based on experience. First-year teachers, who research indicates are less effective than their more experienced colleagues, are still teaching students attending high-poverty schools at higher rates than other students. And while the practice is most prevalent in urban schools, this problem isn’t just a big-city issue. In small towns, rookie teachers are assigned to high-poverty schools almost twice as often as they are assigned to low-poverty schools.

Teachers matter – a lot. Both their subject knowledge and level of experience have a big impact on student outcomes. And yet states continue to fail our most vulnerable students by not giving them the strong teachers they need.

A variety of forces are at play when it comes to who teaches whom. But some school and district leaders are finding ways to break these long-standing patterns to ensure that all students – especially those who need the most from their schools – have access to able teachers. In North Carolina, for example, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is working to attract and retain its most effective teachers to its low-performing schools by giving these campuses top status in the district and making them desirable places to work.

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