Press Release

OAKLAND, CA (January 12, 2012) – Today, The Education Trust—West releases the findings of a two- year-long study of data from the second largest school district in the nation, revealing profound inequities in access to effective teaching.  In Learning Denied: The Case for Equitable Access to Effective Teaching in California’s Largest School District, The Education Trust—West finds that low-income students and students of color in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) are less likely to be taught by the district’s top teachers – the very teachers capable of closing the district’s achievement gaps. These inequities are exacerbated by teacher mobility patterns and quality-blind layoffs.

“This is one of the largest and most comprehensive analyses of this type ever completed, accounting for over 17,500 teachers and more than a million students,” said report co-author Carrie Hahnel, Director of Policy and Research at The Education Trust—West. “We were able to quantify the impact of effective teachers on student learning. We looked at the extent to which students of color and students in poverty had access to effective teachers, and we also looked at the impact of quality-blind teacher layoffs.”

The report reveals that:

  • Teachers have the potential to dramatically accelerate the learning of their students – with the average student taught by a top 25% teacher (top quartile in terms of value-added) gaining half a year more of learning in English-Language Arts and four months in math than a student placed with a teacher in the bottom 25% (bottom quartile).
  • Second-graders who started off behind academically and then had three top quartile teachers accelerated to academic proficiency, while students with consecutive bottom quartile  teachers remained stuck below grade level.
  • Commonly used measures of teacher quality, such as years of experience, are poor predictors of effectiveness in the classroom. While teachers do improve over time, the differences among teachers are far greater than those between teachers at different levels of experience.  For example, the difference between a 10th-year teacher and first-year teacher is only about three and a half weeks in ELA and two and a half weeks in math.
  • Effective teachers are inequitably distributed in LAUSD with Latino, African-American and low-income students much less likely to have access to top-quartile teachers. In addition, these top teachers are more likely to leave the district’s highest need schools.
  • Quality-blind teacher layoffs in 2009 resulted in the removal of high value-added teachers from the highest need schools. If the district had instead laid off teachers based on effectiveness, only about 5 percent of the ELA teachers and 3 percent of the math teachers actually cut by LAUSD would have been laid off.

“These findings should be cause for both optimism and deep concern,” said Arun Ramanathan, Executive Director of The Education Trust—West, a statewide education advocacy organization. “We now know that great teachers have the power to help students catch up when they’re behind.  But you can’t catch up when you don’t have access to the best teachers.”

The report reveals that a low-income student is more than twice as likely to have a low value-added ELA teacher as a higher income peer, and 66 percent more likely to have a low-value added math teacher.  Latino and African-American students are two to three times more likely to have bottom-quartile teachers in math and ELA, respectively, than their white and Asian peers.

“Access to effective teaching is life-changing for students in our communities,” said Yolie Flores, Communities for Teaching Excellence CEO and former LAUSD Board Member. “And because we know that having an effective teacher three years in a row can literally help us close the achievement gap for poor students and students of color, we must make every effort to make sure that these students have equitable access to the most effective teachers.”

According to the report, state and local policies can prevent students from accessing the most effective teachers or cause students to lose access to these teachers. The report recommends that district and state leaders invest in high-quality evaluation systems to identify effective teachers and those who are failing to improve student performance. It calls for developing programs and policies that attract and retain the best teachers in the highest need schools, offering teachers the high-quality professional development that leads to gains in student achievement, and fundamentally reforming state policies that prevent local leaders from making decisions in the best interests of students. This includes ending once and for all quality-blind, “last in, first out” (LIFO) teacher layoffs.

“This report should be a wake-up call for leaders in California and throughout the nation that access to effective teaching is the education civil rights issue of our time,” said Antonio Villaraigosa, Mayor of Los Angeles.  “To close the achievement gap, we must prioritize student needs first through state and local reforms and attract top teachers to our highest need communities, support their growth, and keep them in the classroom.”

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 About The Education Trust—West

The Education Trust—West works for the high academic achievement of all students at all levels, pre-k through college. We expose opportunity and achievement gaps that separate students of color and low-income students from other youth, and we identify and advocate for the strategies that will forever close those gaps.