A Voice of Reason: Sane Views for a Crazy World

May 17, 2007

GOP Debate was not about Education – A Rejoinder Part III

The third in a likely VERY long series of posts about the GOP, Public funding of education, and NCLB.

Gaps, Gaps, Everywhere There are Gaps

The problem with regard to equity in the nation’s public schools goes beyond merely finding qualified teachers to staff the buildings.  The Education Trust has identified the problems in four general categories (2006).  The first is a teacher gap, which has an inequitable distribution of qualified teachers.  The second area of concern is the lack of uniform standards, which promote equality in learning opportunities due to expectations.  The third area is a gap in the rigor of curriculum in many high-poverty schools as compared to typical schools found in predominately white suburban areas.  The fourth area to be addressed is the funding gap, as evidenced by the CSE lawsuit, where fewer dollars are spent to those schools that have the largest populations of students in need.  The end result of these inequalities is a real gap in performance, and perhaps more dangerously, a disparity in expectation, characterized correctly as “a soft prejudice of low expectations”, by President Bush in introducing NCLB legislation.  This perception is shown by data released by The Education Trust (2006), when it found in a survey of teachers that 60% of all teachers felt that disadvantaged students should be held to lower expectations.  Clearly, this low level of expectation is becoming more of a self-fulfilling prophecy in too many of the nation’s schools. 

Recruiting and Retaining Qualified Teachers, A National Problem

This problem of recruiting, attracting and retaining high quality teachers is not isolated to the “Big Five” school systems in New York; it is a national problem.  In comparison to the largest state in the nation, California, New York’s problems pale in comparison.  California’s problems are heightened by the large proportion of ESL students that their schools need to serve.  Schools in the most crowded and least successful schools experienced large enrollments bumps in the 1990’s, and that factor coincided with a teacher population that was declining.  In 2000, Governor Davis and the legislature dedicated twenty million dollars to recruit, train, and retain the estimated 300,000 teachers that would be needed by 2010 to replace retiring teachers (Pierce, 2001). 

The funds used were earmarked to attract, train, and retain teachers to work in schools that are typically hard to staff; typically these are inner city, high poverty schools.  One of the features was a grant of $20,000 to assist potential teachers in completing their post baccalaureate studies, in a college or university recognized by the California Department of Education.  This served a dual function of attracting qualified teachers to work in hard to staff schools, and to increase their efficacy upon completion of their studies.  After completion of their studies, the new teachers are statutorily required to teach in a needy school for four years.  This initiative has enjoyed success.  Early results, tracking the progress of nearly 1,250 teachers who have participated in this program, have shown increases in teacher efficacy, as monitored by student achievement. 

However, promising these results may be, California’s overall picture is dismal regarding teacher quality in hard to staff schools.  Poor and minority children still do not receive equitable distribution of highly qualified teachers.  Students that live in the areas of highest poverty are twice as likely to be taught by unqualified teachers (Esch, C. E., Chang-Ross, C. M., Guha, R., Tiffany-Morales, J., & Shields, P.M. (2004), and students that are within a minority group are three times more likely to be taught by teachers of low quality.  The outcomes of these students are also related to the incomes, regarding teacher quality.  In the schools where unqualified teachers were the most prevalent, 66% of the students tested, failed exit exams.  Although California’s initiatives are a step in the right direction, it is uncertain if the level of support provided by the legislature will meet the demands of its students.

Other aspects of California’s initiatives are being modeled by the New York City School System (Moir, 2006).  These include in-depth mentoring of new teachers, with a price tag of $36 million.  The collaboration of Mayor Blooomberg, the Chancellor of NYC schools, and the powerful teacher’s union of the city schools, is unprecedented, and will bring about the largest and possibly most aggressive overhaul of a teacher support system on record (Moir, 2006).  How this came about is an inquiry that begs to be answered, and this answer may lie in other research concerning findings in hard to staff schools. 

There are many issues concerning the retention of teacher’s salaries, particularly in hard to staff schools.  One consideration is salary differences between these schools, which are typically urban and have high levels of poor minority students, and their counterparts in the suburbs, which are typically attended by white students with significant differences in wealth distribution.  California schools mirror this disparity, where the average annual salary differential, even with grants included; between teachers in high poverty schools is over $2,500 per year when compared to low poverty schools.  With regard to racial equity, teachers where minority students make up a high portion of the student body, earn over $3,000 less per year, than in schools where non-minority students attend.

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