A hot-button issue among educators appears to be “equitable access” to effective teachers, a buzzword at a recent event at the Center for American Progress (CAP). There was a brief introductory presentation of CAP’s research, in conjunction with the American Institutes of Research (AIR), on how to broaden minority student access to effective and high-quality teachers.
AIR’s director of the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders, Angela Minnici, called for more data collection and plans on the state and district level. She pointed out that “Data is very important in this conversation” and said that “we’ve been talking about this for a long time.” Although “it isn’t sexy, it is not a silver bullet, and it is not simple,” she believed it was the solution that teachers needed. She observed, “States often don’t have the data that they need” to “identify solutions going forward,” and urged everyone to “help states build their data capacity and storage” to deal with changing times.
The following panel discussion, featured Jesus Aguirre, D.C. Superintendent of Education, Lauren Beckham, a project coordinator at Louisiana’s Calcasieu Parish, Kenneth Haines, president of the Prince George’s County Education Association in Maryland, and Bryan Hassel, co-director of Public Impact.
Aguirre admitted that Washington, D.C. has “a lot of work to do” and is still “looking for ways to devise” better plans and preparation for their teachers, since “we still have significant achievement gaps” even after receiving Race to the Top grants. Aguirre pointed out that funding “isn’t the only issue,” because other elements of teachers’ jobs come into play, such as providing “more than just the academic stuff.” He said, “40% of our students are in charter schools” and “charter schools have, on some level, [an] easier job of attracting teachers,” because they can institute a culture and show what their school is about. They “sell that to teachers” even if “they don’t pay as much” as D.C.’s public schools. He could only conclude that “we have a pretty good idea” of what works and what does not, yet “we’ve got to do a better job” of informing parents and communities about their schools and teacher effectiveness.
It apparently never occurred to him that charter schools just do a better job, period.
Beckham seconded Aguirre’s premise, explaining that, “We’re early on in the process” and her school system was “still working on it.” Located in southwestern Louisiana, her parish school system has to rebrand the public school system due to the community’s “unfortunate, not always valid” perception that they have a bad public school system serving their children. As a result, “We are working very diligently, initially, with the schools that are providing our interim teachers” to help parents realize that teachers are being improved from training to the classroom. They suggest questions like, “Have you considered A, B, or C?” to convince teachers not to choose early childhood development, where 60% of teachers seek full-time jobs. Adding to her parish’s problems is that “sustainability is always an issue” and, “in a school setting, culture trumps structure every day.” Because of the perception, the school system has “created a self-fulfilling prophecy among the staff.” However, she said, “We have a start…in the right direction.”
Haines, the lone representative on the panel for teachers, said that “children of color, children of poverty are far more likely to sit in a crowded classroom.” Among school administrators, Haines said, “We keep talking about moving around teachers” and do not address how “people burn out from the workload. And, as a teacher representative, he still sees disparities in funding although salaries in Prince George’s County, Maryland have risen and resource allocation has improved. He lamented that “There has to be a way to get all children in circumstances…to succeed.” Too often, he would hear teachers say in his county, “I love my kids, but I can’t take it any more.” He went on to say, “You do it for a while, and they’re typically gone in five” and “our turnover has been fairly high.” In his county’s case, 58% of teachers have left and been replaced, with “1,200 [hired] this year out of a workforce of 9,000.” This “churn is hurting us” and hurts further down the road as “people are always looking someplace else” to work. One way to bring teachers back, or to keep them teaching, is to create a better teaching environment. The county has tried increasing salaries through bonuses, but “we’re seeing that that brings short-term yields but not long term gains.” He even wondered, “Are we shooting ourselves in the foot by making that effort?” In Haines opinion, concrete solutions are “years away.”
Hassel disagreed with Haines and said, “Money is a part of the answer.” “Teacher pay has gotten flat the past 40 years” and he dismissed the sustainability argument as bonuses and pay structures. He argued, “It’s sustainable because it’s coming out of their existing budgets.” In Charlotte, North Carolina, teacher bonuses have been bumped about $15,000-$20,000. [Outside of public schools and government agencies, it is hard to find private sector employees who have seen such a salary bump in a very long time.] Also, with increasingly better technology, rural schools could have the option of using technology to reach more students such as mobile teaching over the internet, which he called “opportunity culture models.” The current problem with teachers is that “we just aren’t setting up teachers for success” because today’s teaching model is “a model that no other profession uses” of placing the burden on the teachers in the classroom. He concluded, “We’re not there yet [but] we’ve made a lot of progress” in education.