Low-Income Miami-Dade Schools Frustrated by Teacher Choices

Miami-Dade's lowest income schools are being populated by first-year teachers, those who have high absentee rates and those who have some of the district's lowest evaulation scores according to an analysis performed by the National Council for Teacher Quality (NCTQ).

Reporting for WUSF, John O'Conner says that the Washington-based organization used student data and school data acquired as a response to a request from the Urban League of Miami. The district had both the highest percentage of black students and the highest poverty levels. Poverty levels were determined by measuring the percentage of students receiving free-or reduced-priced lunches.

Sixty schools in Miami-Dade were rated ‘D' or ‘F' according to the the state's grading system. Seventy percent of those schools were located in School Board Districts 1 and 2. It was also established that less impoverished students pass the state's standardized tests. NCTQ researcher Nancy Waymack stated that Miami-Dade was not the only place across the country that has trouble placing top teachers in low-income schools.

"This is not a secret," she said, "but, when we see data like this it's time to redouble our efforts."

Waymack continues by saying that districts need to focus on recruiting strong teams and praise their good teachers so they will stay. Miami-Dade officials say, however, that they have been working on the problem for several years, adding that Miami-Dade's black students have a"higher graduation rate than other big city districts." They also said that the high schools in question have "improved their grades on the state report card for public school."

"We do agree," said Pablo Ortiz with the district's education transformation office. "There is unequal access and unequal results. But what should be asked is … what is it that Miami-Dade is doing that these other districts should replicate?

"When we look at the title of a research study that says ‘Unequal Access and Unequal Results,' it paints only a limited picture of what's really happening in our schools."

Ortiz defended the district by stating that it was already implementing many of the NCTQ's recommendations. As of now, according to Ortiz, the district has improved the retention rate for Teach for America recruits, and is considering other suggestions.

According to a report by WSVN, another contributing factor is that more teachers at the schools in question resign.

Waymack said, "It's a hard, hard job. They're not coming and going cause it's an easy place to be, so certainly teachers in those districts need support."

Ortiz acknowledged that these schools were difficult to staff . He explained that the new teachers who were being assigned to these schools would have high levels of energy and high levels of training. However, the report says that putting novice teachers in struggling schools can be "counterproductive" since first-year teachers are basically still in the learning mode themselves, writes Chloe Herring of The Miami Times.

The teachers of black students, nationally, are inexperienced, underpaid, and sometimes even uncertified, according to the civil rights office of the US Department of Education.

Frederik Ingram of the United Teachers of Dade said:

"It's a challenge simply because we have a high diversity of population and simply because we have lots of poverty."

Ingram also said the report had merit , but it failed to consider the effects of "parental involvement and the energy of new teachers".

The report recommended better incentives and more flexibility to keep good teachers, as well as coaching.

T. Willard Fair with Urban League of Greater Miami said, "Quality of the person standing in the front of the room determines the quality of the students sitting in the seats."

Ingram countered that the resources available to these schools is another reason student achievement is lower, according to Christina Veiga, writing for the Miami Herald.

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