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Friday, October 02, 2009

All Children Deserve Great Teachers, Witnesses Tell House Education Committee

Miller Encouraged by Teachers’ Union Willingness to Eliminate Collective Bargaining Barriers

September 30, 2009 5:47 PM

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Students at schools with the highest concentration of poor and minority students do not have equal access to effective teachers as their peers in more affluent school districts, education experts, including teachers, told the House Education and Labor Committee today. Teachers are the most important factor in determining the success of students, yet low-income and minority students are more likely to be taught by less experienced, less qualified teachers than their peers in wealthier communities.

“There’s no question that a great teacher is the key ingredient in a child’s education. It is no longer acceptable to allow our poorest children, who need effective teachers the most, to suffer in a system that is not helping them to achieve,” said U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chair of the House Education and Labor Committee. “A young person entering the teaching workplace today wants it to look like their friends’ workplace, but don’t receive the same level of structure, support, or professional development opportunities offered in other industries. This is about being on the right side of history, about changing the teaching workplace to help every student and every teacher excel.”
Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the National Education Association, the largest teacher’s union in the country, testified that his union would take steps to help address barriers in collective bargaining agreement that can make it hard to get the best teachers in high-need schools. He said the NEA will encourage local affiliates to waive language in collective bargaining agreements that prevent this goal.

“The NEA commits to address barriers in collective bargaining agreements by requesting that every local NEA affiliate enter into a compact or memorandum of understanding (MOU) with its local school district to waive any contract language that prohibits staffing high-needs schools with great teachers,” he testified. “These compacts should also add commitments that would enhance this goal. Similarly, NEA would promote compacts or MOUs for its non-collective bargaining local affiliates that have high-needs schools in their districts.”

Miller thanked Van Roekel, calling the testimony “a very important signal from NEA that represents a significant departure from their historical position.”

Children in schools with the highest poverty rates or largest minority populations are assigned to novice teachers almost twice as often as children in low-poverty schools or schools without many minority students. Studies also show there is more out-of-field teaching and inequality in math than in other subjects. In high-poverty and high-minority middle schools – the very time when math fundamentals like Algebra are often taught – about 70 percent of math classes are taught by a teacher who does not have a college major or minor in math or a math-related field.

“We cannot expect students to reach high levels of subject understanding if the instructor him/herself lacks that very understanding,” said U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA). “Too often high-poverty schools are staffed by teachers who attended the least selective and rigorous post-secondary institutions, who achieved the lowest scores on certification exams and who failed to major or minor in the subject they are assigned to teach.” A child of color in Chicago is 23 times more likely than other children to have a teacher who failed their basic skills exam, according to Fattah.

Inequitable distribution of teacher talent hurts the economy, as well as widens the achievement gap. An April 2009 study by McKinsey and Company found the achievement gap “imposes on the United States the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession.”

“Nothing is more important to closing longstanding achievement gaps than getting more of our most effective teachers teaching our most vulnerable students,” said Dr. Linda Murray, Acting Executive Director at Education Trust-West. “Doing this right will require replacing outmoded methods of teacher evaluation with evaluation systems that draw on longitudinal data that link teachers and the growth of the students they teach.”

Under No Child Left Behind, states are required to have plans to ensure that effective teachers are distributed equally but it was rarely enforced under the Bush administration. The Obama administration has already taken important steps to enforce teacher equity provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Specifically, in order to be eligible for emergency state fiscal stabilization funds or to apply for the Race to the Top fund, states and districts must provide an assurance that that they will take steps to address disparities in teacher equity, in addition to other assurances.

Teachers in schools with high numbers of poor and minority are also paid less than teachers in wealthier schools, according to research by Dr. Marguerite Roza, Research Associate Professor in the College of Education at the University of Washington.

In almost every school district across the nation, schools that need funding the most get fewer resources.

“If we care about the success of our students, we have to start caring about the success of their teachers,” said Layla Avila, Vice President of the Teaching Fellows Program at The New Teacher Project. “And that means acknowledging the real differences between teachers in their effectiveness, and taking action to ensure that all children get the same kinds of teachers…”

This is the first in a series of hearings the Committee will hold looking at how to ensure all children have access to effective teachers.

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