Strong Support Systems, Collaboration Key to Retaining Quality Teachers in High-Poverty Schools

According to new research, minority and low-income students are more likely than their White and more affluent counterparts to be taught by ineffective, underqualified, and newer teachers .

While the problem is not new—research and data from the Department of Education and other organizations has identified and tracked the trend for some time—new efforts are being implemented and examined to ensure that effective teachers are working in the schools that need them the most.

This challenge was the focus of a recent Center for American Progress (CAP) panel discussion. Framed around the overarching theme of “Equitable Access: Assuring That All Children Have a Great Teacher,” the conversation centered on the release of three new studies and reports that examined ways for states and school districts to better identify and approach teaching disparities.

Jenny DeMonte, Associate Director for Education Research at CAP, and Angela Minnici, Director of the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders at the American Institute for Research presented findings that starkly defined the disparities.

Their research revealed that African-American students are four times as likely as White students to attend a school where 20% or more of their teachers are newly minted. Latino students and others of color were 33% more likely than white students to be in a school where 20% or more of their teachers were at the start of their careers. And when it came to non-certified teachers, significant percentages of African-American, Latino, and other minority students were found to attend schools where one-fifth or more of the teachers hadn’t received certification.

“This is the problem: if you’re a student of color in a public school in the U.S., you’re more likely to be taught by a teacher who is not as effective, who is inexperienced, or who is not qualified,” DeMonte says. “This isn’t new; we’ve known this for years.”

Following the presentations, the panel explored ways to increase the number of effective teachers for poor or minority students. Participants included Lauren Beckham, Project Coordinator for the PROGRESS Project in the Calcasieu Parish School System in Louisiana, Kenneth Haines, president of the Prince George’s County Education Association (PGCEA), and Bryan Hassel, co-director of Public Impact.

One strategy for connecting at-risk students with effective teachers is to better compensate teacher leaders for working in hard-to-staff schools. After identifying highly effective teachers, the idea is to infuse them into schools that could most benefit from their expertise and leadership.

“High poverty schools in Charlotte, N.C. that did a $15,000 to $20,000 pay bump for taking on teacher leadership had 700 people apply for the 19 jobs created, so there’s the potential here to really change the picture in part by changing compensation, but also by thinking about what’s the impact that teachers can have by taking on advanced rolls,” said Bryan Hassel.

While ensuring that students have access to high quality teachers is essential, Kenneth Haines, president of PGCEA, also said that schools and districts need to create an atmosphere that’s conducive to the long-term retention of effective teachers. Creating high quality and profession-ready teachers that can have a positive affect on at-risk students is only part of the battle. If there is no support structure in place, schools will be hard-pressed to keep talented teachers.

“I’m more worried about it from the end that children of color and children of poverty are far more likely to sit in an overcrowded classroom with a dearth of resources and in a dilapidated facility,” Haines said. “I’m worried that even when you draw those teachers into high-need schools, it gives you a temporary Band-Aid solution. If the conditions are such that people are driven out in 2-3 years, it’s not a sustainable solution. It can give you a little bit of a boost and get you moving in the right direction, but we’re finding in 2-3 years that you’re having to repeat the process because people are burning out due to the workload. When we talk about equitability, we need to start talking about equitability of circumstance.”

The panelists agreed that it’s critical to train new teachers for the on-the-ground realities of teaching, while also providing school-based supports for effective teachers. And it’s equally important to foster a culture of collaboration in schools so that highly effective teachers can work closely with their peers to allow for more skilled teaching and active learning.

“We need to create teams of teachers working together under the leadership of highly effective teachers,” Bryan Hassle said. “Not only does it give highly effective teachers more reach, but it allows them to help other teachers improve their craft in a more sensible way than leaving them on their own.”

Fostering this culture of collaboration is also a priority for the PROGRESS Project, which works with 21 priority schools in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana.

“We look at professional learning communities with the collaboration aspect, focusing on targeted professional development, and making multiple opportunities for teachers to receive support within our schools so they can better target students with the highest needs, ” explained project coordinator Lauren Beckham.