Saturday, June 23, 2007

Inequitable Distribution Of Experienced Educators In Texas: Surprised?

FortBendNow has published a good summary article of the findings of a group called The Education Trust. The findings, produced in two reports, are that with only a few exceptions, the ten largest school districts in Texas inequitably distribute teachers between minority-dominated schools and low-minority schools, and between schools having large populations of students from poor families and schools in more affluent areas.

Inequitable distribution meaning placing teachers with less teaching experience at poor/minority dominated school, while at the same time, allowing schools in non-minority/affluent areas to staff with more experienced teachers.

First, who or what is The Education Trust? From their website, found here, it is a nonprofit group formed in 1990 within the American Association for Higher Education designed to help K-12 reform efforts. Major sponsors include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

In other words, it doesn’t look like this group has a political axe to grind.

Their research method was remarkably simple. They simply isolated the 10 largest school districts in the state, and then accessed TEA records of demographics at each elementary, middle and high school in each district that would allow them to classify schools as low-minority, high-minority, low-income and more affluent. They then compared the salaries of teachers at these schools.

The result was fairly remarkable. Just in looking at the low-minority/high-minority schools, in almost every case, the salaries of teachers in the low-minority schools exceeded that of teachers in high-minority schools by hundreds to several thousand dollars annually.

By way of explanation, teachers are paid, in almost all cases, according to the number of years of experience they have, with the theory that the longer one has taught, the more valuable that teacher is and needs to be retained. So teacher salaries, and differences noted in this study, are directly tied to teaching experience differences between these schools.

This should be a surprise to no one.

Working in schools where there are greater academic challenges that are often accompanied by greater problems with discipline, is a huge drain on a person. That the same level of pay is rated by a teacher of equal experience, but working in a school having with far fewer challenges is grossly unfair. Naturally, unless a teacher is self-motivated to improve the quality of their students’ lives, most teachers will try to gain employment in an environment more conducive to teaching and learning.

This leaves administrators with the job of replacing the teachers that have left the school or the district with teachers with less experience, teachers who may or may not be qualified to teach in their content areas. Sometimes with teachers who lack a teaching credential or are enrolled in a fast-track certification program.

This all seems to be obvious to everyone.

One thing that was omitted from the FortBendNow piece, for whatever reason, was that some districts and schools within districts hire more teachers to accommodate smaller class sizes for poor/high-minority schools. There is an equitable distribution of funds for teachers’ salaries, but there is a disproportionately higher population of teachers at poor/high minority schools.

There is a theory that lower class size equates to higher quality education. That’s the theory. How it really works out in practice in low-performing schools remains to be seen.

A conclusion of the study that I can get behind?

Teachers in schools with greater challenges should get a stipend just for that. This is already partially, at least, in practice in some districts, where teachers with greater than 10 years experience are hired as “master teachers” to help less experienced teachers who are struggling to build a “community of learners” (don’t you love those cute labels?). The trouble is, they typically find themselves teaching classes rather than teaching and helping teachers when a teacher leaves during the school year.

The stipend program needs to be enlarged to include all teachers working in a high-stress environment. We hear all the time from those who want to run schools like a business. This is the perfect opportunity. Businesses that send their employees to live overseas typically compensate them for hardships with “expatriate stipends”. There is no difference here. High stress schools should reward their teaching staff with a high stress environment stipend.

And teachers who decide that they will teach in this environment should also be immune to those insidious punishment provisions of Florence Shapiro’s shameful SB 1043 recently signed into law in its entirety by our half-wit governor. Provisions of that bill cause the firing of teachers whose students’ scores don’t improve on state-mandated End of Course Exams.

Want a disincentive to teach in a high-stress school environment? How about getting fired because your students are not motivated to succeed in school?

One recommendation of the studies that I absolutely cannot get behind is to
“Cap the ability of low-minority schools to ‘buy up’ top teaching talent from high-minority schools and protect those schools serving mostly children of color from being forced to hire teachers who do not meet their standards.”
It should be a free market economy. Preventing schools from hiring qualified teachers is harmful to schools who are in competition with other schools to attract qualified teachers, and unfair to teachers who are simply trying to make a better life for themselves.

What can we realistically expect to result in any school district reaction to this report? How about nothing? No, if anything is going to come of this it is going to be the result of lawsuits that seek an equitable distribution of talented teachers.

So we need someone to file suit, here. Then what happens? Do you think that school districts will pay heed to the study’s recommendation that teachers receive incentive pay to teach in challenging environments? Get real. Money is off the table here. This is Texas, the state that gave their teachers a 1.1% raise this year. No, what you can look for is heavy-handed reassignment of teachers and administrators to different campuses with no change in pay grade

And “the market” will adjust accordingly.

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