Districts That Need High-Quality Teachers are not Getting Them


A recent report shows that students in low-income, predominately black schools are more likely to have first-time or non-certified teachers, which means their academic performance is suboptimal, according to Monique Harrison-Henderson of The Hechinger Report.

The report was a part of a US Department of Education study that investigated why low-income and minority students consistenyly do not have access to the highest-qualified teachers. Possible solutions include a plan to begin promoting teaching as a profession in high school clubs and vocational programs and pushing for better college education programs so that educators can be prepared to teach in low-income and high-minority schools.

“We have had this challenge for a while,” said Cerissa Neal, who helped author the report as executive director of the Office of Educator Quality at the state Department of Education. “Some areas have more challenges … we know we need action and it needs to be centered in local communities.”

Sierra Sands Unified District outside of Los Angeles began the school year with substitutes teaching four classes. Dave Ostash, assistant superintendent of human resources of the 5,000-student district, pulled out all the stops, but still came up short. After many years of recession-related layoffs and hiring freezes, in certain places across the US, there is an urgent need for more qualified teachers, write Christine Armario and Lisa Leff for The Associated Press.

Other reasons for the shortage of teachers include increased classroom testing; low salaries; veteran teachers being moved into specialized roles; a declining number of education majors entering the work force; and a failure to retain experienced teachers.

Several initiatives have been proposed over the years to address teacher shortages and encourage teacher quality. Near the West Tallahatchie High School in Mississippi, a building was meant to supply affordable housing in order to encourage much-needed teachers to come to the area. Monique Harrison-Henderson, writing for The Hechinger Report, reported that the idea came about 17 years ago as a result of the Mississippi Critical Teacher Shortage Act of 1998. The state’s lawmakers funded $200,000 at the time and teachers did move into the location.

No teachers live there now, however, and the district is still in dramatic need of teachers who will come to the district and stay in a community with few stores, restaurants, and amenities. The building stands empty now.

“It was something we were very hopeful about at the time,” said Tracy Mims, a current school board member and mayor of Webb, who has lived across the street from the duplex for more than 14 years. “It sounded like it would give teachers a chance to participate more in the community — to really be here and be engaged.”

Housing is only part of the problem, as the district also rates a D on the state’s A to F school district accountability system, which bases ratings on test scores and other data.

Providing housing for teachers has worked in other states and districts. Newark, New Jersey and the Outer Banks in North Carolina have both built apartments specifically for teachers and other employees of the district, and Los Angeles and the Oakland Unified School District in California are considering proposals for teacher apartment construction.