by Camille Esch | Op-Ed in the LA Times
More so than textbooks or school facilities, research has shown that teachers have the greatest effect on student learning and, by extension, educational opportunity. Yet in addressing access to good teachers, the Williams settlement missed a rare opportunity to compel real action to equalize access to well-qualified and experienced teachers in
Filed in 2000, the Williams suit was about two things: the state's failure to provide all students with the basic resources needed to learn, and students' rights to an education provided on equal terms -- kids in poorer districts should have the same education as kids in well-to-do towns. It was settled in August 2004, and legislation that would allow the state to meet the settlement terms was passed into law the same month. It set aside money for monitoring schools, repairing them and providing textbooks. When it came to teachers, however, the settlement focused only on meeting basic standards.
In essence, the settlement legislation required counties to monitor whether teachers hold minimum credentials and authorizations for the subject area they teach, to do so more frequently in the lowest-performing schools, and to make public the number of misassigned teachers and teacher vacancies. This is good as far as it goes, but it ignores factors research has shown to be more important, such as teachers' years of experience or their demonstrated ability to raise achievement. Worse, it merely monitors the situation -- the settlement didn't require state money to be spent to bring more qualified teachers into low-performing schools.
That problem is apparent, even in Monday's report tracking improvements. The research looked at four regions, including
More than half of those schools have teachers who are misassigned, meaning that they are teaching a subject area or students that they are not authorized to teach. In
An even bigger problem is English learners who don't have teachers certified to teach them. That situation exists in more than 20,000 classrooms with 20% or more of English learners. And there are certainly thousands more, because the Williams-initiated monitoring process doesn't require reporting on such qualifications in classrooms with less than 20% English learners.
The study was content to count the number of teachers meeting minimal standards. Finding an improvement in that number is not the same thing as analyzing whether Williams vs.
Although the Williams lawsuit could have spurred investment and innovation in addressing the problem of teacher equity, it mostly just required more reporting on it. Sadly, even if the implementation of the Williams legislation continues to progress, so too will inequalities for students.
Camille Esch is a fellow at the New America Foundation specializing in
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