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Lesson 3.4

Placement:
Who Teaches Where?

Here’s what happens if you pay teachers to work in challenging schools.

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Schools with high concentrations of low income and minority students need effective and well-prepared teachers.

However, these schools often have some of the toughest working conditions in the education system. Although some teachers relish the challenge, there is an understandable attraction to move to a school where there are fewer distractions and more support.

There are at least two basic approaches to influence where teachers work: "push" and "pull."

  • “Push” approaches directly assign teachers to schools, modifying collective bargaining agreements where necessary to increase the district's discretion to make assignments.
  • “Pull” approaches use incentives to attract effective teachers to choose such assignments on their own. Such incentives include promises about working conditions, recruitment of a strong school leader, arrangements to move teachers as a group, reduced or flexible work assignments, and (occasionally) increased compensation. Pay matters; school districts use pay incentives to attract teachers to apply for open positions.

Teachers are employed by school districts. Within a big district, teachers can negotiate a move from one school to another without changing their employer. To move to a school in another district is more complicated, because it involves signing a new contract, and probably relinquishing your seniority, which implies a pay cut. This is part of the reason teachers tend to stay put.

The challenge of "mobility"

School districts typically decide how many teachers to employ in each school based on the number of students enrolled. In places where there is high student "mobility" - that is, where families have a tendency to move away during the school year - this can be a tricky business. In general, however, districts plan the number of teachers at a site based on a ratio of students and teachers. This ratio doesn't generally take experience into account, which can create unintended consequences.

Because inexperienced teachers earn lower wages than experienced ones, a school with a large percentage of inexperienced teachers has low staff costs.

Because inexperienced teachers earn lower wages than experienced ones, a school with a large percentage of inexperienced teachers has low staff costs. If the ratio of students to teachers is the same throughout the district, regardless of staff costs, the district actually spends less on schools with less experienced teachers. This is common, but hard to see.

In California, the only place to find this information is on the School Accountability Report Card (SARC), a dense document full of useful information for those intrepid few who actually read it. The Education Trust-West exposed the extent of invisible underinvestment in high-poverty schools in its 2005 report The Hidden Gap. In order to address this inequitable investment in children, Oakland Unified School District was the first district in America to adopt the practice of accounting for actual salary costs in school budgeting.

New funding rules may enable high-need schools to attract teachers through pay incentives

In 2013, California also adopted a new set of rules for how state education dollars are allocated to districts. This funding system, called the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), is discussed in more detail in Chapter 8. In the context of this discussion of teachers, however, it is sufficient to know that the formula gives districts extra money based on the high risk students they serve. (High risk is defined as low-income, English learners, and foster youth.) Going forward, districts that have a mix of higher- and lower-income schools may be able to create incentives that make working in low-income schools more attractive. This kind of local policy change typically requires agreement from teacher unions.

Updated June 2017

Review

Besides offering pay incentives, what can districts do to attract teachers to work in schools with high poverty and/or many English language learners?

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Questions & Comments

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user avatar
cb65dy89 May 2, 2016 at 5:19 pm
It is crucial that we pay for more experienced teachers who have the training to deal with the challenging environment that some school have -- or have more training for the teachers that we have, and also have either policeman all day or some type of security to handle some of the challenging environment in the schools.
user avatar
ptalisa April 28, 2015 at 5:57 pm
Our district is doing a great job with the control over funds but I wiah they would give back the arts now
user avatar
CM January 19, 2015 at 2:51 pm
Who works where must be decided by needs of a school and the right teacher's desire. Some schools have more challenging environment. A teacher who is skilled and willing to do the job must be given the position. Nobody else should decide.
user avatar
Margaret Gaston March 29, 2011 at 4:53 pm
In addition to the “Push” and “Pull” approaches mentioned, there is a third strategy that has gotten far less attention from the media and the policy community: retain and build. With very few exceptions, each year even in the most challenging environments, the majority of teachers assigned to a school remain there. Of those who stay, neither pushing nor pulling is likely to help them improve their practice, especially in critical subject matter areas such as science.

A 2007 survey of elementary teachers in the San Francisco Bay region conducted by the Lawrence Hall of Science found that 41 percent of respondents felt less prepared to teach science as compared to other subjects, yet more than two-thirds said they had fewer than seven hours of professional development in science education over the last three years. More than a third said they received none at all.

In dynamic environments where students and teachers are more likely to thrive, attention is paid to building subject matter content knowledge and pedagogical skills, developing solutions to tough problems by encouraging collaboration between and among teachers, and using student data and other relevant assessment information to guide instruction and shape professional development. Building capacity of the teacher workforce to meet everyday classroom challenges may not have the drawing power – or the drama – of other currently popular approaches, but it is a strategy that deserves equal play if we want to bring about the increases in students’ learning that Californians would like to see.
©2003-2017 Jeff Camp
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