Highly-Qualified but Still Left Behind

describe the image Research continues to strongly correlate teacher quality and effectiveness with student educational outcomes in our nation’s K-12 system.  Higher quality teachers are more effective with pedagogy and instruction, thereby yielding higher academic performance and educational outcomes from our students. But evidence still suggests that there are persistent and pervasive issues in achieving higher level performance and outcomes for our students in under-resourced and under-served schools and districts. Could it be that the high quality teachers we all want for our children are not making it to these communities and into these schools? A recent article in the Huffington Post, “ Dream Deferred: Are We Leaving Black Students Behind? ”, asserts that while some school districts have made substantial progress in mitigating the achievement gaps by improving teacher quality, many have “left children behind” even though the 2001 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act required states to legislate equity in teacher quality. NCLB called for every classroom in the country to have a highly-qualified teacher by 2005. According to Title II of NCLB, federal funds would be distributed to state educational agencies to support the professional development of highly qualified teachers and school leaders as a way to improve student achievement. By definition that meant educators must obtain a bachelor’s degree at minimum, obtain state certification or licensure in that state in which he or she will teach, and show evidence of content knowledge in the core subject or subjects in which he or she will teach. A 2009 Education Trust report stated it most clearly; “If state leaders invest resources and energy wisely they don’t have to choose between excellence and equity.” But in 2006, that 100% goal still had not been met. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education reported that 98% of elementary schools and 96% of secondary schools had core classes being taught by highly-qualified teachers. Good news, yes? Not necessarily. The U.S. Department of Education also cited that high-poverty schools and districts were less likely to have highly-qualified teachers than low-poverty districts. One major problem? NCLB provided no further direction to states on defining highly-qualified other than the three-part definition in the legislation. This meant that states could devise their own definitions or methodologies.  This is where we begin to witness the inequities in the implementation and a furthering of the already entrenched inequities in our educational system. We still see that these inequities fall sharply along lines and at the intersection of race and class. To be more specific, the manifestation of these imbalances is disproportionally affecting people of color in poverty. Surely, there are those among us who would be highly-qualified and want to teach in our districts and schools with greater need?

“This is where we begin to witness the inequities in the implementation and a furthering of the already entrenched inequities in our educational system…To be more specific, the manifestation of these imbalances is disproportionally affecting people of color in poverty.”

Education has become highly politicized in the United States and media has displayed a full range of arguments that have left very stale tastes for many who would pursue careers as educators. Once a highly-regarded field has now become highly-vilified and evidence is providing proof. We have seen steep declines in interest in the profession and the numbers matriculating in teacher preparation programs. As one example that reflects the national narrative, California saw a 12% decline last year , its eighth consecutive year of declines.

Now to the Dream Deferred. Langston Hughes penned the renowned poem as a metaphor for things in life that go unrealized. I still remember vividly the day I walked through an urban public middle school after having conducted college awareness sessions for 8 th graders. I initiated a quick but cordial conversation with one of the teachers as I headed out of the building. “How frequently do you offer college readiness activities for students?” I asked. She replied in a hopeless and uninspired tone, “Never. I am just focused on getting these students to finish middle school.” I am sure I gasped loud enough for her to hear me. That one statement said to me that there were probably 400 dreams deferred in that one building and many more before and after those 8 th graders. In that one instance, I heard the ending of that poem when it declared, “Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?”

I am sure, that one middle school in that one city is not unlike many of the schools and young learners who have been “left behind.”

Dr. Adrian K. Haugabrook is the Vice President for Student Success and Engagement at Wheelock College in Boston, MA. His career has spanned from K-12 to higher education policy and practice. You can follow him on Twitter @AKHaugabrook .