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Better Teachers, but Still Too Few

More classes in the state are being taught by qualified instructors, but inner-city schools continue to lag, a federal commission is told.

April 12, 2006|Carla Rivera | Times Staff Writer

Public schools in California have made great strides in increasing the overall number of classes taught by highly qualified teachers, but the state still lags in finding experienced teachers willing to work at high-poverty schools in inner cities, a national panel heard Tuesday.

In addition, though the state will need 100,000 new teachers over the next decade to meet the demands of a growing student population, there is little consensus over how best to recruit and retain them as well as ensure they have the necessary skills to improve student achievement.

These were just a few of the conclusions that emerged from a hearing Tuesday at Cal Poly Pomona to explore the effect of the federal No Child Left Behind Act on teacher quality. It was the first in a series of five public events set to be conducted around the country by the Commission on No Child Left Behind. The independent, bi-partisan group will propose improvements in the law to Congress, which is scheduled to reauthorize the act next year.

The statute currently requires that all teachers become "highly qualified" by the end of this school year. To be considered highly qualified in California, teachers must have at least a bachelor's degree, be fully licensed by the state and demonstrate knowledge of each subject they teach.

Policymakers are especially concerned with how teacher quality affects the achievement gap between disadvantaged and minority students and their middle-class peers.

"Unfortunately, too many of our disadvantaged and minority children are taught by less experienced, less qualified teachers than their more advantaged peers," said the commission's co-chairman, former Georgia Gov. Roy E. Barnes. "Nationwide, high-minority and low-income schools have twice the rate of inexperienced teachers as low-minority and high-income schools. These stark facts translate into the children most at risk of academic failure receiving the least amount of support."

The participants, who included administrators, teachers, activists and researchers, agreed that teachers hold the key to improving student outcomes. There was also consensus that inexperienced teachers excel with professional development, mentors and better pay.

But views diverged on how best to identify good teachers and ways to match them with low-performing schools.

California has made some gains. In 2002-03, according to state figures, the percentage of core academic classes taught by highly qualified teachers was 48% for all schools; 60% for elementary schools and 44% at the secondary level. By 2004, the percentage of those classes taught by highly qualified teachers had risen to 74% for all schools; 78% for elementary schools and 73% for secondary schools.

But while the compliance rate was 81% at middle-income elementary schools, it was 75% at high-poverty elementary schools. At secondary schools, 61% of academic classes were taught by highly qualified teachers, compared with 81% at middle income schools.

Data suggest that the lowest achieving students are five times more likely than higher achieving students to have under-prepared teachers through their school careers.

"There has been great progress in a short period of time, but I think everyone would agree that we have to accelerate the process," Gavin Payne, the state chief deputy superintendent, told the commission.

Payne said the Department of Education has limited ability to require districts to equally distribute experienced teachers.

And the "elephant in the room," Payne suggested, is the need for 100,000 new teachers in coming years as the student population grows and veteran teachers retire. Successful recruitment initiatives, such as the governor's teaching fellowships, have been gutted or eliminated due to budget cuts, said Payne, adding that the federal government must increase funding to help the state develop more teachers.

Supt. Don Iglesias of the San Jose Unified School District, an urban area with a highly diverse student body of 31,000, told the panel that schools must improve the leadership of principals and other administrators and develop nurturing environments to retain good teachers in struggling schools.

"Teachers with high skills want to move to the suburbs because they receive more recognition for their achievements," said Iglesias. "This is not just about money, but about how we treat the people that do the work."

Russlynn Ali, executive director of the Education Trust-West, an Oakland-based advocacy group, complained that the No Child Left Behind law has failed to provide oversight and direction that would resolve such issues as the inequity in teacher distribution and the importance of teacher quality.

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