For Real Equity: Give Schools the Money Instead of Staffing Positions

In the “Highly Qualified Teacher Dodge,” the New York Times editorializes that the Obama administration has failed to drive reform that would give poor students better teachers.

The rules for the Race to the Top Fund, which is designed to reward states that embrace reform and bypass those that do not, are generally sound and have been greeted with enthusiasm. But some school reform groups and some in Congress have reacted with dismay to the part of the stabilization fund that was supposed to require the states to end the longstanding and reprehensible practice of shunting unprepared and unqualified teachers into the schools serving the poorest students.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 was clear in requiring states to remedy situations in which high poverty schools were being disproportionately staffed by teachers who were inexperienced, unqualified or teaching in fields that they had not majored in.

The country would be much further along on the reform trail had the Bush administration followed the law. Instead, it allowed the states to define away the problem by re-labeling the existing, inadequate teacher corps as “highly qualified.”

Congress tried to discourage the use of inexperienced and unqualified teachers a second time when it passed the stimulus act. Education advocates inside and outside Congress

Unfortunately, federal regulations are never going to correct for problems that are inherent in the collective bargaining and labor practices of school districts. The federal government would be much more effective if they attached strings to federal dollars and required school districts to pay schools in real dollars rather than teaching positions. As long as staff is placed in schools based on seniority and school principals do not control the resources generated by their students, teachers will continue to be distributed inequitably between schools. If principals had the resources that each student generated they could use the money to hire more qualified staff or arrange their schools in ways that better served the unique needs of their students. Currently, the way resources are distributed within school districts guarantees that higher paid teachers will keep moving to what they perceive to be “more desirable” schools. If two schools have 20 students and one school has a new $40,000 a year teacher and another school has an experienced $80,000 a year teacher; the resource allocated through staffing looks the same on paper. Each school has one teacher for twenty students. However, one school is receiving a lot more money for the same 20 students. The federal government can define “highly qualified” any way they want, and until local schools receive money rather than staffing positions based on collective bargaining rules, these inequities will persist. We need true vertical equity in public schools that attaches the money to the backs of each child and sends that money to the school where the child enrolls. This will go much farther in solving the teacher equity issue in our schools than federal rules that decide which teachers are the most qualified.

To see which school districts are succesfully attaching the money to the backs of students see Reason’s Weighted Student Formula Yearbook 2009.