Struggling kids, rookie teachers and more reasons for school choice

A recent report from Harvard researchers offers more compelling reasons why expanded learning options are so needed for struggling students. Based on data from four urban school districts, the Strategic Data Project at Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research found lower-performing students are placed with brand-new teachers far more often than their higher-performing peers.

Given high turnover in high poverty schools, and the reluctance of school boards to address it, you’d expect more of these match-ups there. But the researchers found them across all schools. And given what we know about the effectiveness of rookie teachers, the tragic impact is obvious: “The systematic placement of novice teachers with lower-performing students can be expected to compound these students’ academic difficulties and exacerbate achievements,” the researchers wrote. They termed it a “double whammy.”

That’s putting it mildly. There is no justification for saddling students with the greatest need with teachers who are often the least effective. It’s a clear case of public schools perpetuating a vicious cycle that they can, within their power, do much to help mitigate.

The practice isn’t good for teachers either. The researchers ask, “Is it the best strategy to develop and retain highly effective teachers by placing them in challenging situations when they are at a critical stage in their development as teachers?”

The report suggests potential remedies, including paying teachers more to work in tough schools. Maybe, someday, school districts will get around to doing that in a meaningful way. In the meantime, how can anyone deny parents the chance to find better odds in an alternative setting?

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at