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Teacher Inequality Impacting High-Needs Students in Miami-Dade

August 19, 2014 - 6:00pm

Miami-Dade Countys most vulnerable students are more likely to be taught by the least experienced and least effective teachers, according to a new in-depth report released early Wednesday morning by The National Council on Teacher Quality.

The report, commissioned by the Urban League of Greater Miami, took a closer look at Miami-Dade school grades from the 2012-2013 school year. After analyzing school grades, NCTQ then examined whether districts with poor performances had a different composition of teachers than other districts in the county.

Teachers were evaluated by experience, retention, attendance, performance and preparation.

The NCTQ report found that out of 60 Miami schools that received a D or an F grade, 70 percent were in voting districts 1 and 2. Almost all of the students in these districts qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and most students are African-American -- the group which historically is the lowest-performing on the FCAT.

Most of the teachers with the least experience were placed in districts with the highest-need students. A staggering 60 percent of Miami-Dades first-year teachers were sent to districts 1 and 2 to begin their teaching careers.

Both districts saw the greatest discrepancies in the number of midcareer teachers, and district 2 in particular had a much higher rate of novice teachers.

Placing inexperienced teachers into these districts creates an overwhelming set of pressures and demands. Research has shown that new teachers are more likely to leave their schools when they are assigned to teach lower-achieving students with discipline issues. The same is not true, however, for more experienced teachers working with similar students.

If teachers arent staying in their jobs in these particular schools, then theyre not gaining the experience and the knowledge they need to be more effective, Nancy Waymack, managing director of District Policy at NCTQ, told Sunshine State News. Its a tough challenge to fix.

Unsurprisingly, the teacher turnover rate in districts 1 and 2 was much higher than the district-wide average.

Teacher quality has been a hot topic across the country in recent years -- many statewide officials and legislators have pushed for higher quality teachers in order to improve teacher performance and, consequently, the student success.

The disparity in Miami-Dade is emblematic of a nationwide failure to provide all students with experienced and effective teachers, said T. Willard Fair, president of the Urban League of Greater Miami. We cannot allow our schools to deny educational opportunities to our most vulnerable students.

Addressing the issue of unequal distribution of teachers is a complicated affair, but there are a few ways NCTQ believes the problem can be fixed.

One of the solutions is to incentivize high-performing teachers to move to higher-needs schools, like those in districts 1 and 2. Incentives could be monetary or a special title recognizing teachers skills.

If youve got a high-performing teacher there, you really want to make sure that they are recognized and valued in that school and that theyre encouraged to stay, said Nancy Waymack.

Other possible fixes included recruiting teachers from highly-rated teaching programs and reinstating or scaling up the involuntary teacher program so districts could place teachers in schools where they were needed the most.

There are things that take time to have an impact, but every step along the way helps, said Waymack.

The Miami-Dade County Public Schools acknowledged the need to address these issues, but warned the data was not recent.

"Although we acknowledge the findings presented in this study and are pleased to see that they
are consistent with what we have been addressing over the past two years, the data used isoutdated and only remains at the surface level of the complexities and challenges our districtfaces," read a statement from the M-DCPS. "We have identified these same findings far in advance of this study and, not surprising,therecommendations presented actually validate much of the efforts we have initiated toaddress the issues."

Waymack emphasized the seriousness of getting the best teachers into high-needs schools to help students succeed.

Its very important to recognize there are likely to be really good teachers in those schools now, she told SSN. But right now, theyre not having the impact we need them to have because those students do need to catch up to make sure they get to where they need to be.

Reach Tampa-based report Allison Nielsen via email at allison@sunshinestatenews.com or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen

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