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Topic: The teacher gap
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
The teacher gap
Posted: Jul 14, 2000 11:22 AM
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From the Washington Post, Wednesday, July 5, 2000. p. A20 See


The Teacher Gap

SPENDING A YEAR or even a semester in the classroom of a wonderful
teacher can be a life-changing experience. Many an adult can still
recall clearly the educator who opened the doors to learning,
inspired a career or offered the boost that was needed to get through
a rough passage in earlier years. The opposite, of course, is also
true. A year in a classroom with a teacher who shouldn't be there can
set a youngster back; a couple of those years in a row can cost
students ground that may be very difficult ever to make up. And it's
not always just a matter of luck which kind of teacher children run

The Education Trust, a nonprofit advocacy group that focuses on
schools serving low-income and minority students, recently issued a
report detailing what it calls "a pervasive, almost chilling
difference" in the quality of teachers in those schools and in
schools serving other young Americans. At the high school level,
students in schools serving a high percentage of poor or minority
students are much more likely to be taught by teachers not certified
in their field. At all grade levels, students in high-poverty schools
are more likely to be taught by less-experienced teachers. Although
many dedicated and talented teachers work in these schools, the
report found, there just aren't enough of them.

A variety of factors contributes to the disparity, including lack of
money in some school districts to pay competitive salaries, seniority
rules in some areas that allow the most experienced teachers to
choose where they want to teach and abysmal working conditions in
many urban and high-poverty schools. ("You might start by fixing the
bathrooms," was one teacher's very basic suggestion for improving
teaching conditions.)

Against this national backdrop, Fairfax County School Superintendent
Daniel Domenech announced a small but promising experiment last week:
Four of the county's most expert teachers, all nationally certified
and each with at least 15 years experience, will voluntarily transfer
to an elementary school that is struggling to improve student
performance. They will receive $3,500 bonuses for making the switch,
and will serve as mentors to other teachers as well as taking on
their own classes. Mr. Domenech said he hopes the program, if
successful, will spread to other schools as well. Maryland is
offering a state-paid annual stipend of $2,000 starting this fall to
teachers with advanced certification who will teach in schools that
have been identified as needing special help or are in danger of
state takeover. The state can't say yet how many teachers will

Many jurisdictions, including Maryland, Virginia and the District,
are taking broad steps to recruit more good teachers in general,
improve their training and support them once they're in their jobs.
These are important reforms because all students deserve the best
possible teachers. But the job won't be complete until systems are
drawing enough strong teachers to all the places they are needed, and
making it worth their while to stay.
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618) 453-4244
Phone: (618) 453-4241 (office)
(618) 457-8903 (home)


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