As discussed in our previous blog post on teacher compensation, investing in our teachers is critical to closing the opportunity gap in Washington state. Research has found that effective teachers* are inequitably distributed between districts and between schools within districts according to student poverty**. (Adamson and Darling-Hammond, IES brief, IES study, WA Equity report). This means that some of the students with the highest needs don’t have access to the teachers that can meet those needs. Research also indicates that improving the distribution of effective teachers can lessen the achievement gap between low-income and non-low-income students. So, how can we make sure that every student has access to effective and well-supported educators?
There are a number of reasons for the inequitable distribution of effective educators. In Washington, differences in salaries between districts because of local levy dollars and teacher shortages in particular endorsement areas have been found to contribute to the issue. Working conditions, school leadership, and available supports are also factors in teacher’s decisions of where to teach. In order to address these factors and ensure every student has access to effective teachers, we should pursue strategies to attract and better prepare new teachers as well as encourage and better support existing teachers to teach in high needs schools. Below are some of the strategies that could help us accomplish that.
Attracting and Preparing:
- Increase starting teacher salary to attract more individuals to become teachers.
- Create alternative pathways to certification to enable paraeducators and other career changers to pursue teaching. This will not only help give more effective individuals the opportunity to pursue teaching, but could also increase the number of teachers from historically underserved communities and diversify the teaching force.
- Increase teacher preparation standards to make sure that teachers have received the training they need before they enter the classroom. This includes raising expectations for content and pedagogical knowledge, standardizing those expectations across preparation programs in Washington, and increasing preparation program quality.
- Include more student teaching and practicum in teacher preparation programs. This will help future teachers gain more hands-on experience before entering their own classrooms. This can include partnership with districts, such as the Seattle Teacher Residency Program or Heritage University’s Residency program, and mentoring programs once teachers are placed in schools.
Supporting and Encouraging:
- Provide state-funded professional development for all teachers. By supporting all teachers in their professional growth, we can increase the effectiveness of all educators.
- Provide targeted professional development for teachers and principals in high needs schools. This will support teachers in meeting the specific needs of their students, and principals in meeting the needs of their teachers. The professional development could also be designed as an incentive to encourage teachers to move to high needs school, by providing additional opportunities for professional growth.
- Institute mentoring programs in high needs schools. This would provide a leadership opportunity for veteran teachers and additional support for new teachers, improving the working conditions and growth opportunities for both.
- Allow more flexibility for principals in high needs schools. Flexibility in staffing and programming could attract effective principals and allow them to set the culture and working conditions that will attract effective teachers.
- Provide student loan forgiveness for teachers and principals who work in high needs schools for a sustained period of time.
- In order to really have a sense of whether students have access to effective educators, we must improve data collection and indicators of teacher effectiveness. Our current indicators of certification, education level, and years of experience do not provide information about actual teacher performance and impact on student learning. The Washington Equity report outlines some potential options for using the teacher evaluation system to enhance our effectiveness data.
- Move bargaining of teacher salaries to the state level. This would eliminate the differences between districts in salary levels, thus decreasing the recruiting advantages one district may have over another.
How else can we make sure that every student has access to effective and well-supported educators?
*Effective educator is defined differently in various studies. Some use value-added measures that incorporate student growth and others use definitions based on credentials and years of experience.
**Two of the studies also found similar inequitable distribution based on student race and ethnicity.
Read Part 1 of our McCleary blog series, Rethinking Our Education System