Access to New York’s top teachers still unequal, state report shows

Schools serving the largest shares of poor and nonwhite students in New York state are more likely to be staffed with teachers who have no experience, have little expertise in the subjects they teach, and who earned lower ratings than those serving whiter and more affluent students, according to a new report from the state.

The familiar socioeconomic and racial disparities are detailed in the state’s first comprehensive look at the issue in nine years. In that time, the state has spent nearly $700 million in federal funds, part of which was earmarked to help ensure disadvantaged students have increasing access to high-quality teachers.

The report shows that the work is far from complete. It also comes at a time of transition for the department, with incoming commissioner MaryEllen Elia set to start in July. Meanwhile, with the state soon to be without the extra millions in federal funding New York has had since 2010, a key strategy for addressing the problems hinges on a program that’s about to run out of money.

The report, which is actually a federally mandated plan, offers evidence of a variety of gaps.

In a quarter of schools with the highest percentage of poor and nonwhite students, more than 7 percent of teachers were in their first year, compared to less than 2 percent at the whitest and most affluent quartile of schools in 2013-14. And while less than 1 percent of teachers in those schools were deemed “not highly qualified” — because they lacked an appropriate college degree or teaching license — that rate was between 6.9 percent and 8.8 percent in less affluent schools.

The report also highlights the connection between high-needs students and low-rated teachers, Earlier this year, the state found that black and Hispanic students were more likely to be taught by teachers who received lower ratings on the state’s new evaluations. New York City’s black students, for instance, were more than two times as likely to have a teacher rated “ineffective” or “developing” as white students. (Critics have challenged that analysis, calling those ratings incomplete because of their reliance on standardized test scores.)

“Effectiveness matters,” Senior Deputy Commissioner Ken Wagner said then. “It has real impact on real kids in real classrooms.”

Gaps emerged in teacher and principal turnover rates as well. In the 2012-13 school year, more than 20 percent of teachers in high-poverty and high-minority schools left, compared to 12 percent at low-poverty and low-minority schools.

Turnover rates of teachers with less than five years of experience were high at both types of schools: 27.6 percent of those teachers in high-poverty schools left compared to 26.2 percent for low-poverty schools.

The report was compiled for the U.S. Department of Education, which last summer requested that all states update the teacher equity plans that are supposed to ensure that qualified teachers are spread evenly among a state’s schools, as federal law requires. New York’s first plan, created in 2006, also found that schools and districts with greatest concentration of poor and nonwhite students had more inexperienced and uncertified teachers, but used more limited data (mostly student achievement metrics, like graduation rates and state test scores) to reach its conclusions.

In its new report, the state says that districts should recruit top-rated teachers to work in their high-need schools or subject areas, or have them take on expanded leadership roles.

The department’s Strengthening Teacher and Leader Effectiveness grants have given districts $83 million in Race to the Top funds to support that work in recent years, although that funding ends this month. One district highlighted in the report offers a $5,000 transfer incentive to teachers to teach for at least three years in a high-need school, for instance.

In New York City, the Department of Education has launched a few teacher recruitment programs to steer teachers towards its hardest-to-serve schools in recent years. It received a $4.7 million grant to improve retention in a small group of Bronx high schools and the city’s new teachers contract established a $5,000 bonus for teachers working in hard-to-staff schools and created three leadership positions that come with salary increases of between $7,000 and $20,000.

Here is the full report: