There is ample research on the differences in teacher distribution across schools vis-à-vis teacher demographics and experience, but what about teacher distribution within schools? A paper published by the Urban Institute looks at this issue.
By comparing teachers within the same grade level and school in an urban district during a given year, the authors found that less experienced, minority, and female teachers are assigned students with lower and more variable prior achievement, more prior behavioral problems, and lower prior attendance rates; also, they are assigned more low-income and minority students. Their more experienced, white and male colleagues generally have a lower proportion of the low-achieving, poor and minority students.
Furthermore, the authors found that the teachers’ human capital, which they measured by experience, highest degree earned, attendance at more competitive colleges, and effectiveness at raising student achievement, consistently correlates to the types of students they are assigned—in that, the more effective teachers are assigned higher achieving students with few behavior issues. The authors propose that this may be because principals want to reward teachers they want to retain and punish those they want to get rid of via an informal method; however, other research suggests that this may not be the case. Generally the argument is that teachers with more human capital are assigned more advanced courses because they are assumed to have a better grasp of the subject matter; students in these courses of course tend to be higher achieving.
The authors concede that this last explanation may be plausible at the high school level, but argue that it does not explain the patterns of assignment they saw at the elementary level. Therefore, they are inclined to agree with the former argument that “good” classes are assigned as rewards. Altogether, these practices are part of the complex leadership process in most schools, which tries “to balance both short and long-term goals as well as pressures from students, teachers and parents.” It suggests that one avenue for decreasing the achievement gap may be through the principalship, with a focus on class assignment.
To read the full paper, please visit http://www.urban.org/publications/1001530.html