Teaching Profession

Distribution of D.C.'s ‘Effective’ Teachers Deemed Uneven

By Stephen Sawchuk — November 15, 2010 1 min read
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Bill Turque at The Washington Post had an important story out this weekend about the uneven distribution of the District of Columbia’s top teaching talent.

This past summer, then-Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced results from the first year of performance-based teacher evaluations. Much blood was spilled about the 165 teachers who were being let go for poor performance, but the district also announced that 16 percent of the teaching force got the highest rating possible, “highly effective.”

Turque reports, however, that the city’s wealthiest ward has far more of these highly effective teachers (22 percent) than does the city’s poorest neighborhood (5 percent).

It’s a pattern that is almost certainly replicated in other large urban school districts because of longstanding seniority and transfer policies, the newspaper reports.

The analysis of D.C. teachers is important because most studies about teacher distribution have relied on proxies for teacher effectiveness—like qualifications and credentials—rather than on measures, however imperfect, of teachers’ affect on their students’ performance.

We should know a lot more about where the most effective teachers are located once Mathematica Policy Research and the U.S. Department of Education release an analysis about the location of effective teachers in select urban districts. The analysis is part of the federally funded Talent Transfer Initiative.

TTI seeks to move effective teachers into challenging, poor schools and to study them to determine whether they as effective at boosting student achievement in their new schools.

I wrote a story not too long ago about TTI and a few other projects across the nation that seek to create a more equitable distribution of teachers. This is a complicated area for reformers because it will require them to engage in a bunch of different policy areas, including recruitment and retention policies, as well as improving working conditions and school culture in the hard-to-staff schools.

For their part, D.C. officials are rolling out a performance-bonus system that gives the heftiest awards to effective teachers who work in poor schools.

Do you have any other recommendations for D.C. or for others seeking to rectify the uneven distribution of teacher talent?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.