New teachers often get the students who are furthest behind — and that’s a problem for both

Matt Barnum, writing for Chalkbeat, recently wrote an article exploring the fact that new teachers often end up in the most challenging classroom assignments. Excerpts of the piece appear below:

Being a new teacher is notoriously difficult — and schools often make it even tougher.

New research out of Los Angeles finds that teachers in their first few years end up in classrooms with more struggling students and in schools with fewer experienced colleagues, making their introduction to teaching all the more challenging.

The differences between the environments of new teachers and their more experienced teachers are generally small, but they appear to matter for both students and teachers. The tougher assignments hurt new teachers’ performance and their career trajectories — and mean that students who are the furthest behind are being taught by the least experienced educators.

The latest study is notable in scope, looking at a decade of data on teachers in the country’s second-largest school district. The researchers compared newer teachers to teachers who had been in the classroom for six years or more, from the 2007-08 school year until 2016-17.

They found that first-year teachers served more struggling students — those who started the year with lower test scores, lower grades, and higher suspension and absence rates — than more experienced teachers. The differences were small but consistent.

Novice middle and high school teachers were also more likely to work with students learning English (7 percentage points more), students from low-income families (6 percentage points), and students with disabilities (1 percentage point). And it’s not just a first-year effect: the results generally hold for teachers in years two through five.

This isn’t simply because younger teachers work in entirely different schools. Often, novice teachers are serving more disadvantaged students than their veteran colleagues down the hall.

Teachers usually improve with experience, particularly in their first few years, so the latest results mean that students who are struggling the most are often getting the least qualified teachers.

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