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TEXAS TEACHER QUALITY SURVEY: Students in Low-Income Schools Likely to be Taught by Less Experienced, Poorly Qualified Teachers

"The real bottom-line problem is that we're dooming kids who live in certain ZIP codes because we don't provide them the quality teachers they deserve."

Texas schools with large percentages of poor or minority students are most likely to be taught by less experienced teachers who are often uncertified in the subject area they teach, according to a recent study by University of Texas researcher Edward Fuller. Meanwhile, the most affluent schools have some of the most qualified teachers in the state. “The real bottom-line problem is that we’re dooming kids who live in certain ZIP codes because we don’t provide them the quality teachers they deserve,” Fuller told the San Antonio Express-News, for which he conducted the statewide analysis.

Fuller’s research took three factors into account: a school’s teacher employment turnover rate; the percentage of teachers with less than three years of experience; and the number of teachers teaching outside their area of certification. He then assigned every school a Teacher Quality Index (TQI) based on how they compared with other schools in the state. Schools in the top 10 percent are given a rating of 1, while schools in the bottom 10 percent receive a 10 rating.

Fuller chose the indicators because each represented a different facet of teacher quality: schools with high turnover rates are unlikely to have good working conditions; beginning or novice teachers often do not have the experience to be effective; and teachers who are not certified in the subject they teach often lack necessary in-depth knowledge. “They’re kind of crude indicators of teacher quality, but they are correlated with student achievement,” Fuller said.

Experts advised that schools could best use the ratings as a diagnostic tool. Susanna Loeb, a Stanford University economist, told theHouston Chronicle that school administrators should use the ratings as a starting point for a larger discussion about whether their best teachers are working with the students who need the most help.

Some districts are promoting incentives to draw more highly qualified teachers into their schools. In Houston, the district is offering teachers up to $3,000 a year extra to teach in their schools, but only if teachers improve student performance. The Fort Bend Independent School District is offering an extra $3,000-4,500 a year to recruit twenty expert teachers into Willowridge High School, which received an average TQI of 8.33 and has a minority enrollment of over 70 percent. So far, eight teachers have agreed to teach at Willowridge under the plan.

However, money is not always the answer to recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers. In Tapping the Potential, the Alliance for Excellent Education pointed to evidence that found that new teachers’ decisions to transfer out of low-income schools often rested not on financial concerns, but on the extent to which those schools supported them with well-matched mentors, guidance in using curriculum, and positive hiring processes. In fact, the report cites comprehensive induction, especially in a teacher’s first two years on the job, as the single most effective strategy to stem the rapidly increasing teacher attrition rate.

Tapping the Potential: Retaining and Developing High-Quality New Teachers is available here.

The San Antonio Express-News article, which includes Fuller’s TQI rating for every school in Texas, is available at here.

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