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Getting Strong Teachers to Students Who Stand to Gain the Most

Washigton, D.C.  – In school districts across the nation, Black, Latino and Native students, and students from low-income families, are less likely to have access to strong consistent teaching than their White and more affluent peers. And while many states have simply chosen to continue to ignore this deep inequity, there are some state leaders who are moving in the right direction.

In Ed Trust’s newest report, “Tackling Gaps in Access to Strong Teachers: What State Leaders Can Do” Ed Trust shares promising initiatives and lessons from these states that can help spur other state education leaders to launch and boost their own efforts.

“Strong teachers are essential for improving student learning. But students who already face barriers based on race or class are too often the very students who are denied the opportunity to study with these strong teachers. This slows down student learning, widens achievement gaps, and inhibits students from reaching their full academic potential,” said Allison Rose Socol, co-author and assistant director for P-12 policy at The Education Trust.

“That’s why it’s critical that state education leaders take seriously their responsibility – and their ability – to help ensure that children who need strong teachers get strong teachers,” said Socol.

When the federal government called on states to create actionable plans to address these gaps in teacher quality, most state officials failed to address inequities in favor of broad efforts to improve teacher quality overall. Ed Trust analysts saw this pattern in the 2015 “teacher equity plans” and again in the plans submitted this past spring under the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.

Tucked into a few state plans, however, Ed Trust uncovered examples of promising initiatives that focus on the students most underserved. Those include:

  • Massachusetts’ Student Learning Experience Report helps district and school leaders identify where students have had inequitable access to strong teaching. The system shows the characteristics of teachers who taught each student over a period of many years.
  • Tennessee is encouraging teacher preparation programs to steer candidates to districts with the greatest need as part of their work to improve the partnership between districts and preparation programs.
  • Ohio convened district teams to refine local plans for addressing inequities in access to strong teaching and develop actionable implementation steps. Officials plan to organize similar meetings focused specifically on districts with the biggest gaps.

This report comes as leaders prepare to implement ESSA in their states, when they have a real opportunity to move beyond generic improvement strategies and focus on equitable ones. To assist in this effort, Ed Trust highlights five ways state leaders can and should focus on students who are being underserved:

  1. Be transparent about which students get which teachers. As the keepers of data systems, leaders in state departments of education are uniquely positioned to provide district and school leaders — and the public — transparent information on patterns in assignment to strong teachers at the district, school, and classroom levels, potential causes of these patterns, and their impact on children.
  2. Set clear expectations for improvement for leaders at all levels and make meeting those expectations matter. State leaders must set clear expectations, with numeric goals and timelines for eliminating inequities in assignment to strong teachers. And they must make those expectations matter to their own staff, district leaders, and school leaders.
  3. Target resources to the districts and schools struggling most with this issue. If state leaders want districts to act on this issue, they’re going to have to provide some real support. Of course, state education agencies are responsible for serving all districts, but they must prioritize support to the districts and schools that need the most help.
  4. Develop networks of district leaders to problem-solve together. Staff at the state department of education is an important source of support for districts struggling to give equitable access to strong teaching to all students — but staff members aren’t the only source. State leaders have an important role to play in helping district leaders learn from one another.
  5. Break down silos between efforts to increase access to strong teaching and broader school improvement work. Too often, the lowest performing schools are also the ones with teachers who have the fewest resources and the least support.

“State leaders have had the power – and the responsibility – to support district and school leaders in closing teacher quality gaps for a long time,” said Lillian Lowery, Ph.D., vice president for P-12 policy and practice and a former state chief in Maryland and Delaware. “For the sake of the students who are continuously underserved, state leaders must exercise that power now.”

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