Which school do you want to support?
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."
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.
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.
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.
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