How teacher hiring puts black and Hispanic kids at a disadvantage
Now, a new working paper suggests that schools in Los Angeles often wind up putting children of color in classrooms with teachers who have less skill and experience than those who teach their white classmates.
The differences were slight -- enough to move the average black, Hispanic or Asian student one or two percentiles lower on standardized tests -- but statistically significant. Harvard University's Thomas Kane, one of the authors of the paper, already made some of the results public while testifying in the Los Angeles case, Vergara v. California.
The impassioned debate over tenure and compensation for teachers has continued in the months since the ruling. Just this week, the Obama administration asked states to come up with plans for distributing the best teachers equally among students, regardless of race or family income.
In an interview, Kane explained how teachers' contracts can affect where the best ones work. Teachers often don't want to teach in schools in impoverished neighborhoods, because the job is so much more exhausting than in schools where the students come from happier homes and are generally better behaved.
In a district such as Los Angeles, teachers with seniority might have a contractual right to transfer to a post of their choice. Younger teachers who are just learning the profession end up working with poorer students, who are also often students of color.
"Our schools serving our most disadvantaged students are the places where novice teachers get hired and broken in," Kane said. "Once they develop some experience, they move to other schools."
Figuring out what to do about that is a problem that no one has quite been able to solve. The administration's notice to states this week offered little in the way of specifics about how to get the best teachers to where their talents are needed most.
Like many economists, Kane feels that skilled teachers who work in disadvantaged neighborhoods should be paid bonuses to encourage them to stay, but identifying the best teachers poses additional questions.