July 25, 2005, 12:52AM
WINNER TAKES ALL
Good teachers flock to good schools, avoiding schools where their talents are most needed.
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle
FANCY new schools with state-of-the-art science labs and sparkling natatoriums enhance the educational experience, but they don't amount to much if classrooms are staffed by inexperienced, unqualified or burned-out instructors. With the right teacher, students can achieve lofty academic heights in the most Spartan classroom.
The sad irony, according to a study by University of Texas researcher Edward Fuller, is that when it comes to having abundant school resources or good teachers, the choice seldom is an either/or situation. It's an all-or-nothing proposition.
Fuller's research, using data from the 2003-04 school year, the latest available, examined seven school districts in the Houston region. He found that the teachers with the best credentials work in the schools with the most affluent students, and the less-qualified instructors teach in schools populated by low-income students. This matters because of another correlation — students who attend schools where the worst teachers predominate tend to perform poorly on standardized tests.
Fuller, who specializes in teacher recruitment and retention issues, used three criteria to judge teacher quality: classroom experience, certification to teach a given subject and teacher turnover (high teacher turnover is an indication of a poor work environment).
Obviously, some inspired and skillful teachers teach in poor-performing schools. They tackle the most challenging assignments and endure the worst working conditions. Their students tend to have poorly educated parents less able to help them with homework.
Many poor children lack school supplies and suffer from poor nutrition. When discipline at school becomes an issue, it can be difficult to get parents working multiple jobs to focus on finding a solution.
The problem is how to attract and retain good teachers at the schools that desperately need them. There are only so many excellent teachers who will remain in under-resourced schools. They deserve merit bonuses and a medal.
Education experts say that incentive pay for teaching in less-desirable schools can be part of the solution. Those schools also need to provide adequate training and teaching supplies, enforce student discipline and cultivate a supportive workplace. Schools that provide these things will find that the best teachers will flock to them and stay put once on board.