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Friday, September 14, 2012
Unequal education: Low funding is not the only problem with high-minority schools
According to a report released by the Center for American Progress, African American and Latino students in high-minority schools are getting the short end of the funding deal. In fact, the report revealed more money on average is spent in schools where the majority of students are non-Hispanic whites. According to the report, across the country, “schools spent $334 more on every white student than on every non-white student.”
In an average sized school with mostly minority students, this would equal nearly half a million dollars in additional funding if these figures were to be reconciled. This would be enough money to hire an additional 12 beginning teachers or 9 veteran teachers, relieving stressors such as overcrowded classrooms while providing additional resources for those in the greatest need.
These findings are particularly disturbing in light of an additional report recently released by ACT, showing that more than half of all students of African American or Hispanic descent failed to meet any of the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks in 2012.
On the surface, those reading these reports may wonder how this disparity could take place. The answer lies in discrepancies between teacher pay in various schools.
According to the first report, schools where the majority of students are from minority groups have the highest ratio of entry-level teachers instructing there. So, if a beginning teacher on average makes $36,780 per year and a seasoned teacher with more than 11 years in service makes $47,380,we can clearly see more than a $10,000 surplus in pay for those who are more seasoned. In light of these figures, it is difficult to say whether or not we should consider veteran vs. beginning teacher salary as an actual disparity in spending.
Though on paper it may look disproportionate, I believe the finding somewhat skews the real problem with American Public Education.
College Readiness Benchmarks by Race/Ethnicity (ACT)
In my opinion, the real issue here is not that districts are showing favor to schools with fewer minority students, but rather that the way teacher salaries are allotted should be reconsidered.
As a beginning teacher, I would have taken extreme offense at someone believing that, just because my pay was less than that of my more seasoned peers, I was actually a less than worthy candidate to teach their children.
Indeed, during the time I did spend in the classroom, I was considered to be, without boasting, one of the better teachers in the school and perhaps the county. By my second year of teaching, I was rated distinguish and accomplished in every area of my teacher evaluation. I often lead staff development on best practices and strategies for dealing with at-risk students and as such was often allotted the neediest of the student population to my classroom. With every year I taught my students showed an average of well over a year of growth regardless of race, sex or disabilities.
Based off my personal experience, less focus should be placed on whether the teacher in the classroom is a veteran or a newbie but more so on whether they are knowledgeable and skilled at implementing research-based practices into their teaching, resulting in higher growth over all.
That being said, I do believe changes need to be made in how funding is allotted, particularly in schools where the students are at higher risk for failure. Additionally, I am a strong advocate of teacher pay moving to a merit-based system.
With a merit-based system, teachers who are doing great things, particularly in schools with mostly low performing students, would be acknowledged and encouraged to continue performing at the highest levels of proficiency. This could involve not only helping students achieve high levels of growth but also how committed they have been to increasing knowledge in their field, as well as what kind of ratings they have received from parents in their classrooms. With these kinds of measures in place, I believe the field would see more highly-skilled individuals entering due to the greater incentives to do so.
Teacher pay, however, would not be the only change necessary. Indeed, in schools where students are at higher risk for failure, and particularly in classrooms that are dense with these students, there should be additional personnel assigned in the form of assistants or extra teachers.
If I am very honest, one of the main reasons I left the field of teaching was not because I disliked working with struggling students, but because I was given so few resources with which to reach them.
The Center for American Progress report about Unequal Eduation.
The year I left teaching, I had a class of 32 students — by myself. One third of my students were in the EC program, more than 80 percent on free or reduced lunch and more than half had failed their previous grade level. Many of these students also had a variety other factors leading to low performance such as homelessness, mental disorders and behavior problems.
At the start of the year I had an assistant for just one hour out of the day and the EC teacher came in for a half-hour of inclusion. In my classroom, students’ reading ability ranged from first grade to 12th grade and one was actually classified illiterate. I could not find the time to meet all their needs and that is what finally broke me. There is no worse feeling in the world than knowing what a student needs and how to help them achieve and yet have no earthly power to do it because of lacking personnel to accommodate.
When I left the teaching field, it had absolutely nothing to do with being tired of low-performing students. But it did have everything to do with getting a disproportionate share of behavior problems, disabilities and low achievers because I was talented, while receiving no additional aid or pay. Meanwhile, more seasoned veterans were given paychecks worth twice mine while receiving the highest performing students because the teacher was less effective than me.
In essence, many teachers are being “punished” for being talented, and in the long run, the students end up losing as talented, passionate, yet disillusioned educators exit the field due to high stress, low pay and quick burn out rate.
If our nation is serious about reaching its neediest populations, then it must become serious about seeking out and retaining high-quality educators — both seasoned and new — who will prepare our children with skills for life and work in the 21st Century.