All students still deserve a quality teacher

Districts across the country are struggling to meet the needs of their students with fewer resources due to the current economic realities. Some districts have had to reduce the number of school days, while others have had to reduce the number of teachers.

Before laying off teachers, keep in mind that out-of-field teaching continues to be a problem, especially for our poor and minority students. According to a report from Education Trust, although the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) requires all students to be taught by a highly qualified teacher, many students are not. However, the problem varies dramatically from state to state. And the problem may be exacerbated if districts aren’t able to hire or even retain quality teachers.

What the report found was:

  • Almost twice as many classes in high-poverty secondary schools (27 percent) are taught by an out-of-field teacher than in low-poverty schools (14 percent).
  • Out-of-field teaching is more prevalent in math, where 22 percent of all math courses in our secondary schools are taught by an out-of-field teacher.
    • Low-income students are assigned out-of-field math teachers at more than twice the rate of high-income students, 41 percent to 17 percent.
    • Similar rates were found for minority students. In schools that serve mostly black and Hispanic students, 30 percent of the classes were taught by an out-of-field teacher, while the percentage was just 16 percent in schools with few minorities.
  • Louisiana and Alaska had the highest rates of out-of-field teaching. Indiana, Rhode Island and Minnesota had the lowest.
    • Even the demographically similar states of Washington and Massachusetts have differing rates of 15 percent and 25 percent respectively.  

While the problem of out-of-field teaching persists, the report highlighted several programs that are making a difference:

  • UTeach at the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Arts and Sciences, which has attracted and prepared more than 400 math and science majors to teach.
  • The University of North Carolina and University System of Georgia have set targets to increase the number of teachers they produce in math, science and special education.
  • Louisiana evaluates its teacher preparation programs using value-added measures of the programs’ graduates.
  • Boston and Chicago’s “teacher residency programs” are based on the medical school model for training doctors, where teachers are placed with mentor teachers for a year before they are placed in their own classroom.
  • Denver and Guilford County (NC) Public Schools have restructured their pay systems to get more highly qualified teachers into the neediest schools in the neediest subjects.

Of course being a qualified teacher does not necessarily mean that the teacher is an effective teacher. Even so, these measures do highlight the fact that too many students with the greatest needs get the least qualified teachers. And in these tight economic times it is important that districts get the most bang for the taxpayers’ buck by recruiting and retaining qualified and effective teachers. Furthermore, districts should do all they can so that all students have equal access to such teachers. By ensuring all students access to a quality teacher it will help districts meet the needs of all their students, even if it is with fewer school days or a smaller teaching staff.  – Jim Hull

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