Report Calls For More Experienced Teachers in Low-Performing Schools

By Mary Ellen Flannery

When school boards don’t create incentives for experienced, highly qualified teachers to teach in their poorest schools, the kids in those schools are denied the same resources and opportunities to learn that middle-class kids get every day, says a newly report from Appleseed, a national network of public interest justice centers.

Their report, called “The Same Starting Line,” was based on interviews and data from school districts in five states across the nation. In all, Appleseed found a disturbing emphasis on outcomes, but much less attention to the kinds of things that help kids cross the finish line, like teacher quality.

“The No Child Left Behind Act really emphasizes outcomes, test scores, but what’s lost in that conversation are the learning and educational resources that contribute to those outcomes,” said Edwin Darden, director of education, law and policy at Appleseed.

Those resources include buildings, curriculum, and, of course, teachers and education support professionals. Too often, he said, experienced teachers choose to teach in middle-class schools – but it’s poor and low-performing students who could benefit most from their skill and expertise.

Darden isn’t talking about transferring teachers against their will – “Instead of a ‘push’ system, let’s look at a ‘pull’ system,” he said.[/youtube]It might look very much like the Equity Schools Project in Evansville, Indiana, created in 2009 by the local union and district to focus resources on three of the district’s struggling schools: Delaware Elementary, Howard Roosa Elementary, and McGary Middle School.

As part of their negotiated agreement, each school can add up to 20 days of classroom instruction, plus five professional development “data days,” where teachers learn more about using test data to meet student needs. Teachers also enrolled in an “equity academy,” where they completed 40 hours of professional development on Saturdays and Wednesday evenings.

Teachers could choose to participate – and they might have been swayed by both the extra pay for their extra time (teachers receive $20 an hour for their time in the Academy and $1,000 upon completion) and also the opportunity to improve their own skills — but teachers who opted out could no longer teach at those schools.

“Our partnership demonstrates how you can wisely use agreements to help get students what they need to succeed,” said Keith Gambill, president of the Evansville Teachers Association. “In our case, that means an extended school year for students and more meaningful professional development for teachers.”
Appleseed’s report points to another creative strategy – one used by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg district in North Carolina. There, teams of teachers and principals move to new schools and “receive financial reward for their willingness to lead change in tough circumstances.”

“It doesn’t force people into areas where they don’t need to be,” Darden said, but it does “respect the fact that talented teachers can migrate and be successful.”