Today, we released Learning Denied: The Case for Equitable Access to Effective Teaching in California’s Largest School District. This report is the result of an 18 month study of teacher, student and layoff data from the second largest school district in the nation – the Los Angeles Unified School District. Using this data, we were able to quantify the impact of effective teachers on student learning. We looked at the extent to which students of color and students in poverty had access to effective teachers, and we also looked at the impact of quality-blind teacher layoffs. We found that low-income students and students of color in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) are less likely to be taught by the district’s top teachers – the very teachers capable of closing the district’s achievement gaps. These inequities are exacerbated by teacher mobility patterns and quality-blind layoffs.
The report reveals that:
- Teachers have the potential to dramatically accelerate the learning of their students – with the average student taught by a teacher in the top 25 percent of the district (top quartile in terms of value-added) gaining half a year more of learning in English-Language Arts and four months in math than a student placed with a teacher in the bottom 25 percent (bottom quartile).
- Second-graders who started off behind academically and then had three top-quartile teachers accelerated to academic proficiency, while students with consecutive bottom-quartile teachers remained stuck below grade level.
- Commonly used measures of teacher quality, such as years of experience, are poor predictors of effectiveness in the classroom. While teachers do improve over time, the differences among teachers are far greater than those between teachers at different levels of seniority. For example, the difference between a 10th-year teacher and first-year teacher is only about three and a half weeks in ELA and two and a half weeks in math.
- Effective teachers are inequitably distributed in LAUSD with Latino, African-American and low-income students much less likely to have access to top-quartile teachers. In addition, these top teachers are more likely to leave the district’s highest need schools.
- Quality-blind teacher layoffs in 2009 resulted in the removal of high value-added teachers from the highest need schools. If the district had instead laid off teachers based on effectiveness, only about 5 percent of the ELA teachers and 3 percent of the math teachers actually cut by LAUSD would have been laid off.
We hope that state and local policymakers will focus on these findings and follow through on our recommendations. This work arrives one week after two important reports – the results of the MET project from the Gates Foundation and the results of a study by researchers at Harvard and Columbia highlighted in the New York Times revealing the long-term benefits effective teachers for students. These two reports and our study all highlight the massive learning gains for students who have access to effective teaching. Our report looks at issues of access to effective teaching by race and poverty, finding broad inequities in the nation’s second largest school district and analyzes the negative impacts of a seniority based layoff process forced on the district by the state. All of this work leads to one indelible conclusion – it is time for change. We must place our most effective teachers with our highest need students and work to do whatever is necessary to keep them there.
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