Minority kids often get poor teachers

The next frontier for advocates of testing is closing the quality gap between teachers who teach poor children and those who teach in more prosperous districts.

The question parents needs to ask - especially after a child receives failing marks on a high-stakes test - is: How many teachers in the school are qualified to teach their subject?

Recent studies show that poor and minority children have more than their share of low-quality teachers - and that the quality of teaching has a significant impact on learning.

"Some school 'inputs' make an extraordinary difference in terms of student learning outcomes, and the thing that unquestionably matters most is good teachers," says Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, citing studies in Boston, New York, Dallas, and the state of Tennessee. Such research shows that the difference between a good and bad teacher can add up to a grade-level of achievement in a year, she adds.

Some states aren't waiting for parents to demand this information. Texas just began requiring schools to send notices to parents when their children are taught for more than two weeks by an unqualified teacher. It's a bid to involve parents more directly in lobbying for higher-quality schools.

"We've been at reform here in Texas for quite some time, and I can tell you that two or three successes can change the behavior of a whole district," says Darvin Winick, who helped develop the Texas accountability system.

"We're working now on two fronts: teacher education and continued support of families who get negative information about kids. Our message to these families is: Don't kill the messenger. Don't despair, and don't deny the information. This score tells you that your kid can't spell: Do something about it."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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