You are here

Research Center

The Equitable Distribution of High Quality-Teachers

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has brought renewed interest to this topic.

A new report by the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality (TQ Center) highlights efforts across the nation to address a key point in the No Child Left Behind law and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARR A)—the equitable distribution of high-quality teachers across all schools.

Research consistently has pointed to effective teaching as the most significant factor affecting student achievement (Rivkin, Hanushek, & Kain, 2005; Babu & Mendro, 2003). The most commonly applied definition of high-quality teachers derives from the No Child Left Behind law: "the teacher has obtained full State certification as a teacher ... or passed the State teacher licensing examination, and holds a license to teach in such State, except that when used with respect to any teacher teaching in a public charter school."

Perhaps the most challenging task for school districts is the recruitment and retention of effective teachers, particularly in high-poverty and/or high minority schools. One goal of the No Child Left Behind law was to "ensure that poor and minority students are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers." While progress has been made, inequities still exist in high-poverty and high-minority schools (U.S. Department of Education, 2009; Alliance for Excellent Education, 2008). The ARRA has brought renewed interest to this topic. States must demonstrate an equitable distribution of high-quality teachers as one of four assurances prior to receiving the second phase of ARRA funding.

States and districts across the country have initiated efforts to recruit and retain high-quality teachers in these schools. The challenge is twofold: (1) What incentives will attract high-quality teachers to these schools? (2) What characteristics will entice them to remain? Additionally, which entity is primarily responsible?State? District? School?

The Status of the Problem

According to the TQ Center's August 2009 report, most states and districts increasingly are placing greater emphasis on teacher credentials and the development of longitudinal data systems that link student results with teachers. The report found that states increasingly require more "robust preparation programs"; emphasize the identification, recruitment and placement of effective teachers; and encourage technical assistance for teachers. It also analyzed the myriad challenges in accomplishing these goals, particularly while addressing the specific needs of students with disabilities and English language learners.

The TQ Center underscored the problem that high-quality teachers work disproportionately in low-minority and/ or low-poverty schools. It confirmed the findings of other studies that high minority and/or high-poverty schools have difficulty recruiting and retaining high quality teachers. But why is this so?

Unfortunately, research that might answer this question is lacking, due in part to the inconsistency of data among schools and districts; however, existing studies point to a few common characteristics that hinder retention: lack of teacher autonomy, student behavioral problems and lack of support by administrators. The report suggested that states and districts should collect and analyze more student and teacher data, work more closely with teacher unions in developing high-quality teacher plans, build the skills of existing teachers as opposed to encouraging effective teachers to transfer from other schools and understand that a productive school culture and effective leadership may be as significant as teacher income.

Statewide Efforts in Delaware and Tennessee

The examples of Delaware and Tennessee may provide state education agencies (SEAs) and local education agencies (LEAs) with a better understanding of the challenges and next steps in ensuring the equitable distribution of high-quality teachers. In Delaware, teacher vacancies are most prevalent at the secondary level, and in the subject areas of mathematics, science and special education—typical throughout the United States. Through interviews with principals and human resources directors, researchers identified three key factors in Delaware that positively affect the equitable distribution of teachers:

  1. All 14 principals said that school-based incentives, such as "extra pay for extra duties" and "better facilities," attract high-quality teachers.
  2. The human resources directors felt that the state's efficient processing of teacher licensure allows districts to make informed decisions about teacher quality.
  3. Some LEAs provide a small stipend to teachers who provide timely notice of their employment intentions for the following year. The human resources directors stated that this gives them a head start in filling potential vacancies.

As part of this same study, interviews with 539 secondary teachers also produced interesting results. They identified the following factors as the most important in deciding to stay in their current positions: teaching assignment (37.7 percent), school leadership (18.3 percent), extra time during the workday (16.6 percent), and collegial environment (15.2 percent). The least significant factors were teacher empowerment (4.9 percent), school facilities and resources (4.6 percent), and professional development opportunities (2.7 percent).

The researchers urged that individual states may want to conduct their own studies since the factors may vary across the nation.

In 2007-2008, the Tennessee Department of Education audited six districts using a tool developed by Edvantia and the Council of Chief State School Officers (Sheinker et al., 2005). Based on these results, the TQ Center compiled researchbased recommendations for schools facing the greatest challenges:


  • Create high-quality alternative routes for teacher preparation and certification.
  • Fully utilize community colleges for teacher preparation.
  • Implement grow-your-own strategies for hard-to-staff schools.
  • Revise transfer and hiring practices for at-risk schools to provide more options and control over budgets and recruitment decisions.


  • Provide comprehensive induction and support for new teachers.
  • Improve working conditions at schools.
  • Recognize and support quality leadership in at-risk schools.
  • Provide professional development and challenging career options—including leadership opportunities—for teachers.
  • Create learning communities.

How Other States Are Addressing the Problem

The TQ Center supplemented this report with a research and policy brief that analyzed efforts in California, Georgia and Ohio to address inequitable distributions of high-quality teachers by ncouraging data study and self-analysis (Imazeki & Goe, 2009).California developed a toolkit to help districts define their strengths and needs (California Department of Education, 2007). The state's intention is that districts will use data to identify apparent factors that affect student academic performance.

These factors may include the number of high-quality teachers overall and in core classes, teacher qualifications and professional development, and the pairing of ineffective teachers in schools with ineffective administrators.

Georgia created Project EQ, which allows districts to analyze their high-quality teacher distribution by comparing and contrasting data online. The system enables districts to draw their own conclusions by comparing factors such as student results, teacher experience and students' socioeonomic status.

Likewise, the Ohio District Teacher Equity Project places data into the hands of educators and policy makers to help determine which schools and subjects have the highest number of ineffective teachers and to craft strategies that address these issues (Imazeki & Goe, 2009).

Other statewide efforts include the following:

  • Florida prioritizes teacher professional development for schools graded as a D or F.
  • California and Texas assume studentloan costs for teachers in low-performing schools.
  • Nevada, Texas and Tennessee continually monitor teacher-distribution patterns.
  • Tennessee offers tuition incentives for courses taken by staff in targeted schools, teacher preparation programs aimed specifically at urban issues, and pathways for recruiting teachers in high-need subjects.
  • Texas recruits teachers from Spain to assist Spanish-speaking students (Goe, 2009).

The brief concluded with nine recommendations for states:

  1. Use key indicators to identify schools most in need of assistance.
  2. Maintain comprehensive data on characteristics of teachers.
  3. Link teachers with all students they teach, thus making it possible to collect and analyze student characteristics and outcomes related to specific teacher characteristics.
  4. Track teacher movements both within and across districts.
  5. Investigate the reasons for inequities within and across districts.
  6. Analyze the specifics of union contracts— specifically, hiring and assignment policies—in order to identify areas where reform may be needed.
  7. Involve all stakeholders.
  8. Weigh the relative cost-effectiveness of policies.
  9. Collect and analyze detailed information connected specifically to policies designed to affect the distribution of teachers (Imazeki & Goe, 2009).

Ultimately, states, districts and schools all have responsibilities for ensuring the equitable distribution of high-quality teachers. States must vest in districts the authority to make changes; districts must design and implement unique strategies to ensure teacher equity; and schools must ensure that, regardless of the socioeconomic status of their students, the atmosphere attracts high-quality teachers and encourages them to remain at their current schools. DA

Stan Bumgardner is an Edvantia writer.