Friday, August 11, 2006

Poorest students get weakest teachers, national study finds

These findings on the importance of teacher experience have enormous policy implications. -Angela

Poorest students get weakest teachers, national study finds

Web Posted: 08/11/2006 01:05 AM CDT

Jenny LaCoste-Caputo / S. A. Express-News Staff Writer
Nearly every state, including Texas, has been ignoring a federal law requiring them to monitor the number of inadequate teachers in the nation's poor and minority schools and come up with a strategy to make sure those students are getting the teaching they deserve, according to a report released Thursday by Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.
"Most states aren't acknowledging the disparity," said trust policy director Ross Wiener.

No Child Left Behind, the sweeping education reform signed into law by President Bush in 2002, mandates that states address the practice of disproportionately assigning inadequate teachers to work in the poorest schools.

Until July 7, however, when the U.S. Department of Education required states to present plans to remedy the problem, the federal government never enforced that portion of the law.

The lack of policing by the federal government has had profound results, according to the Education Trust study of plans from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The study found that only three states reported all the required data and 40 did not analyze whether minority students were being shortchanged. Education Trust supports the goals of No Child Left Behind.

Debbie Graves Ratcliffe, spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, said Texas officials were collecting data but didn't have enough guidance from the feds.

"Now we're collecting it so it shouldn't be an issue in the future," she said. "We're doing our best to comply with this law."

Texas reported the percent of classes taught by highly qualified teachers in high-poverty versus low-poverty schools and in high-minority versus low-minority schools. Like most states, however, Texas failed to measure and report on the percent of inexperienced teachers in those schools. Education Trust considers teachers with three years or less classroom time to be inexperienced.

Ed Fuller, a researcher for the University of Texas at Austin and former director of research at the Texas State Board for Educator Certification, conducted a statewide analysis of teacher data for the San Antonio Express-News last year.

His Teacher Quality Index ranks schools from 1 to 10 — with 10 being the worst — by assessing the percentage of inexperienced teachers, rate of teacher turnover and percentage of teachers working outside their subject area.

"They just had to download it," Fuller said of Texas education officials.

Fuller's analysis found that, in general, the higher the teacher quality index score, the higher student achievement. He also found that students at low-income, high-minority schools were more likely to have teachers new to the profession, unfamiliar with their subjects, or on their way out the door, than kids at low-poverty schools with a majority Anglo population.

That's why addressing the problem of inadequate teachers for the neediest students is so important, Wiener said.

"We cannot close achievement gaps if we don't close gaps in teacher quality," he said.

The Education Trust study also criticizes states for their plans to address inequality in classrooms. Two states, Nevada and Ohio, presented solid data and targeted plans to solve the problem, according to the study.

Ratcliffe said Texas has plans to ensure the best teachers are attracted to the schools that need them most. This spring state lawmakers approved an incentive program that will provide money for bonuses at high-poverty schools that achieve academic success. The program is being modeled after a $10 million pilot program created by Gov. Rick Perry that will reward teachers at a handful of schools across the state this year.

Heather Peske, co-author of Education Trust's study, praised the Texas Legislature for the incentive program, but chastised the state for failing to report information on experience levels of teachers in poor and minority schools.

"Texas can make as many proposals as they want," she said, "but if they don't know what the picture of teacher quality looks like for poor and minority students, then they're making plans in the dark."


Teachers figure into the school gap

Web Posted: 05/22/2005 12:00 AM CDT

Jeanne Russell
Express-News Staff Writer

If you go to school in a predominantly black Texas community, your teachers likely are new to the profession, unfamiliar with their subject or on their way out the door.

The Teacher Quality Index (TQI) is a 1-10 rating derived forall Texas schools using three measures: the percent of teachers teaching subjects in which they are not certified, the percent of of teachers with fewer than three years experience, and the school's teacher turnover rate. Poor and minority schools scored lower than affluent, Anglo schools. The lowest ranking is 10; the highest, 1.

High schools showed the strongest relationship between the TQI and test scores.

*Database: Texas TQI for Elementary Schools
*Database: Texas TQI for Middle Schools
*Database: Texas TQI for High Schools
*Note: Databases may take several minutes to load.

The failure to ensure that the nation's classrooms, especially those in disadvantaged schools, all are staffed with qualified teachers is one of the most serious — and unaddressed — problems in American education, experts say.

That's because teaching plays a major role in how students, and ultimately schools, fare. Students at low-income schools forced to rely on weak teachers fail important tests. The schools then are branded poor performers and have an even harder time attracting strong educators. And the cycle continues.

Lancaster High School in Southwest Dallas County, where 77 percent of the 1,400 students are African American, starkly illustrates a pattern that repeats itself to a lesser degree in schools serving mostly poor and Hispanic children, according to a statewide analysis of teacher data conducted for the San Antonio Express-News by Ed Fuller, a professor of educational administration at the University of Texas.

"The real bottom-line problem is that we're dooming kids who live in certain ZIP codes because we don't provide them the quality teachers they deserve," said Fuller, who's also the former director of research for the State Board for Educator Certification.

The Dallas area school ranks 10 — the lowest ranking on Fuller's Teacher Quality Index — and tied for last place statewide. He devised the 1-10 rankings by assessing a school's percentage of beginning teachers, rate of teacher turnover and percentage of teachers working outside their subject area.

At Lancaster, more than 60 percent of the English 1 students studied with a teacher who was not certified in English. Sixty-eight percent of students in Algebra 1 had a teacher who wasn't certified in math.

The students who took Advanced Placement chemistry last year prepared for a rigorous exam with a teacher who was not certified in chemistry. That may explain why just 6 percent of all Lancaster students took any AP exam.

The lowest scoring Bexar County high schools on Fuller's index were both predominantly low-income and minority. Kennedy had an 8.3 ranking; Sam Houston a 7.3. Their poor showing is reflected in student achievement. Last year, only 25 percent of Sam Houston and 34 percent of Kennedy ninth graders passed all the state's exams.

Teachers gravitate toward kids of the same ethnicity and background, experts agree.

In Texas, 70 percent of teachers are Anglo, compared to 39 percent of the students. Nineteen percent of the teachers are Hispanic, compared to 44 percent of the students. And 9 percent of the teachers are African American, compared to 14 percent of the students.

Research shows that effective teaching is the single greatest influence on a child inside the school. Still, Texas brands its worst schools "low-performing" but doesn't take the obvious next step of pairing the best teachers with struggling students — despite decades of talk about the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students.

"You've got your least capable people working in those schools," said Carrol Thomas, superintendent of the Beaumont School District. "They don't have the creativity that's necessary to succeed with those kids. A whole community effort is needed to help those African American kids."

What the data show

Fuller created his Teacher Quality Index (TQI) for all Texas elementary, middle, and high schools. He chose the three factors to determine TQI because each one was statistically significant, showing a strong relationship with student test scores.
The study found that the higher the TQI, in general, the higher the student achievement, even when comparing schools of similar demographics.

Charter schools and schools with high percentages of African American students clustered at the very bottom of the state on a scale of 1 to 10. Fuller ranked student test scores on a similar 1 to 10 scale to demonstrate the link between teacher quality and student performance. Lancaster also scored a 10 on that scale.

"They come from homes where the parents may have less time, no magazine subscriptions, fewer books," said John Cole, president of the Texas Federation of Teachers, a statewide union. "Then they come to a school located in an area where there is violence, drugs and problems associated with poverty. When they come to that school, they often find out that it is staffed by people who are young, or teaching on emergency certificates. They have to jump three major hurdles that other people don't have to face."

Statewide, a handful of impoverished and predominantly African American schools fare better on the index, and also on student test scores, particularly at the elementary school level. But many of the top-scoring schools, including some in the poor, Hispanic Rio Grande Valley, are magnet schools.

Among the state's top-ranked schools was San Antonio's Health Careers High School, a premiere local magnet high school with tremendous teacher loyalty. The International School of the Americas, another small magnet, also scored near the top of the list, with a 1.3, as did Randolph and Madison high schools.

Research consistently shows that teacher certification matters, especially at the high school level and in subjects such as math and science. Teachers win certification in particular subject areas by completing a preparation course and passing a test proving they have mastered the material.

And while Hollywood has popularized the stories of exceptional beginning teachers, it typically takes five years for teachers to hone their skills. Turnover often signals that teachers are fleeing ineffective leadership or poor working conditions, experts on effective teaching say.

Wayne Dickey graduated from Highlands High School and went to student teach at Sam Houston three years later. Some 32 years later, he's "fat, bald and ugly," but just as dedicated to the school as when he started, and convinced that those teachers who survive the first two years fall in love with the students and the community.

"The biggest kick I get out of teaching is when someone tells a kid, 'You can't do that,' and we prove them wrong," said Dickey, who teaches U.S. history and coaches boys' basketball. "I want Sam to get back to where it was 10 to 15 years ago, and especially for the community to feel like their kids are really getting a good education and reaching up the social ladder and grabbing the American Dream."

Race matters

Teachers prefer kids whom they can relate to, Fuller said. That's problematic, given that most Texas teachers are middle class white women.
Carrol Thomas, the Beaumont Superintendent and president of the Texas Association for Black School Educators, remembers growing up in Lockhart during desegregation. The kids were sent to the white schools and the black teachers lost their jobs.

"Teaching was not the friendliest position for African Americans," said Thomas, who described an exodus of black teachers as new fields opened up for educated African Americans. "So the counseling and support you would have gotten from having those African American teachers, you just didn't get. As a result we lost a whole generation of kids. We're still trying to recover from that."

That phenomenon was true throughout the South, and meant the loss of some of the teachers who best understood how to help African American kids, said Michéle Foster, author of the book "Black Teachers on Teaching."

Sam Houston is San Antonio's only predominantly African American high school, and like most schools on San Antonio's historically black East Side, it has long battled low test scores.

Trustee James Howard, who represents the area, has fought to reform languishing schools like Martin Luther King Middle School.

The district recently remade the middle school, a onetime perennial on the state's low-performing list, as a pre-K through 8 academy. This year, test scores are good enough that the campus may move up two notches on the state's report card, earning a "recognized" stamp.

A few weeks ago, Superintendent Rubén Olivárez moved in with similarly strong medicine for Sam Houston, naming a new principal, who will re-interview teachers and ask them to commit to activities such as tutoring and summer workshops.

Beaumont's Thomas pays tuition for paraprofessionals and aides who want to train to become teachers. And he offers schoolwide bonuses to schools that improve test scores, with a larger potential bonus for high-poverty schools.

That may be why Beaumont's elementary schools are among the state's few predominantly African American schools that score relatively well on the TQI. So far, student test scores show modest improvements.

"The goal (at Sam Houston) is to have the best program," Olivárez said. "Best programs are basically defined by high quality teachers. Teachers become high quality teachers when they have good leaders, good support, and a high level of professional collaboration within the school."

Measuring quality

Experts disagree on the merits of the Teacher Quality Index.
The index is most powerful when used to show patterns, least so when focusing on individual teachers, said Foster, an education professor at Claremont Graduate University.

The best teaching can't be easily measured, Foster said. Commitment is among the many intangible but critical ingredients in effective teaching.

"Those things matter, but the question is, are they sufficient?" Foster said. A teacher can be very prepared, but is she prepared to communicate with those kids? Can you fall back on the 3.75 GPA you got at Princeton?"

Like Foster, Kate Walsh, president of the Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality, said other credentials or experience may prepare a teacher just as well as education coursework. Her group promotes performance pay for teachers, among other initiatives.

But on one point there is no question, Foster said: "The least prepared teachers tend to end up in the most vulnerable schools."

The federal No Child Left Behind law contains a provision that kicks in next year and is designed to ensure that districts do not send their least qualified teachers to their most needy schools.

In the meantime, local districts have been taking steps of their own.

Edgewood has struggled for years to overcome the stigma of poverty and to pay competitive salaries, said Elizabeth Garza, executive director of personnel and pupil services for the district. That hurts in a county with 16 competitive school districts, Garza said.

Like Sam, Kennedy High School has had a virtual revolving door of principals.

Principal Owen Kelly, in his second year, said a key goal is to develop a core group of teacher leaders.

The district also has begun offering signing stipends for hard-to-staff areas, and bonuses for those who return. Still, it begins every year with vacancies, and fills about 80 of its 800 teacher slots each year with new teachers, about 25 of whom are working on their certification.

"The fact is that hiring teachers is very competitive," Garza said. "There's a lot of places people can go."

Why would a top teacher go to a low-performing school? There's seldom extra pay, indeed, salaries are often lower. The work is harder. And at the end of the day, the students may still score poorly.

"With high-stakes testing, you can go and work your heart out and the kids don't perform, and everyone is looking at you like you didn't perform," said Beaumont's Thomas.

Solutions not tried

Fuller argues that the current system in Texas entices teachers to suburban or wealthy districts with nicer facilities and greater parental support and stability than poor districts.
Others agree.

"I don't know how anybody in education could not be aware about (the gap in teacher quality)," Thomas said. "It's just a question of how much people want to take on that problem."

The end result, said Howard, is that "not just African American, but minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged students are really being educated on a subpar level."

Fuller, Thomas and Howard believe that state money is needed to help poorer districts to compete with their more affluent peers.

The solution is not merit pay, said Fuller. He criticizes Texas lawmakers who sought to link pay to student test scores, saying that change would likely reward suburban teachers more than those working in challenged schools.

Tougher certification laws won't solve the problem either, said Foster. As an example, he cites an African-American sixth grade math teacher who turned around a class of low-performing students yet failed the math subject area test in California.

Nationally, what California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger unflatteringly termed "combat pay" — incentive pay for teachers working in difficult schools — is mostly in its infancy.

But in Chattanooga, Tenn., state and county leaders have begun a dramatic turnaround of the highly problematic inner city schools, said Foster, who wrote an evaluation of those efforts to improve teacher quality through pay and other incentives.

"There's a lot of conversation about this and substantial public acceptance of it," said Walsh, whose group is tracking such experimental programs around the country.

Chattanooga won support and funding from its state Legislature. Foundations, local associations and the local university offered mortgage, legal and tuition assistance to help, and keep, teachers in challenging schools.

The united front went beyond teacher pay, Foster said, signaling a clear community commitment to education.
Database Researcher Kelly Guckian contributed to this report

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