Teacher quality lags in poorer schools

Affluent areas have better recruiting and retention tools

States are working hard to place certified teachers in as many classrooms as possible in accord with the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. But according to a new report, not enough of these efforts have benefited schools with high concentrations of impoverished students.

Education Week releases today its "Quality Counts 2003" survey of US schools.

Many states now have programs that offer signing bonuses, retention bonuses, scholarships, loans, and tuition assistance to attract new teachers. But few of these programs are targeted at high-poverty or low-achieving schools, the survey says.

A noticeable gap in teacher quality continues to exist between high-poverty and more affluent schools.

One measure is the percentage of students who take at least one class from a teacher who did not major or minor in the subject.

For secondary schools overall, it's about 22 percent, but in high-poverty secondary schools, it rises to 32 percent.

Students in high-poverty high schools are also twice as likely as those in low-poverty schools to have a teacher who is not certified in the subject he or she teaches.

Teachers' level of experience is another point of comparison. In more affluent elementary schools, just under 9 percent of teachers have fewer than three years' experience, compared with about 13 percent in high-poverty schools.

A failure to concentrate on recruiting and retaining quality teachers at high-poverty schools may explain some of the difference in teacher quality.

But poor working conditions are likely another contributing factor.

The survey shows a significant difference between the atmosphere and morale at high-poverty and low-poverty schools.

Teachers in high-poverty schools were more likely to agree that student disrespect is a moderate or serious problem (56 percent compared with 37 percent).

Eighty percent of these teachers also said they find students ill-prepared to learn, compared with only 45 percent at low-poverty schools. And 75 percent consider lack of parental involvement a problem, compared with 36 percent at other schools.

These teachers were also less satisfied with their salaries and felt less support and cooperative effort from parents and fellow staff members.

On the positive side, schools everywhere have benefited from efforts to bring teachers into classrooms through alternative routes.

All but six states now have ways for career-changers and others who did not major in education in college to become certified.

Overall, Education Week gives states a less-than-glowing endorsement. Its report assigns grades to state education systems in the areas of standards and accountability, efforts to improve teacher quality, school climate, and resources.

In all categories, the states averaged a grade of "C."

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