Missouri’s Teacher Equity Plan Draft Misses the Mark
Is a teacher with a master’s degree in biology and several years of research experience unqualified to teach high school biology? According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE)—yes.
Missouri is submitting a new teacher equity plan to the Department of Education. As the Associated Press reports, the plan touches on the unequal distribution of experienced teachers within urban and rural school districts. States must submit updated plans to continue receiving waivers from No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
Within a draft of Missouri’s Educator Equity Plan, DESE writes, “According to federal guidance, less effective teachers are those who are inexperienced, unqualified, or out of field.” Later in the plan, the department presents dozens of ideas about how to recruit effective teachers to rural, poor communities.
Though DESE highlights a few academic studies, it neglects research with alternate findings especially in relation to experience and education versus student achievement. This—combined with the listed stakeholders (National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, Missouri State Teachers Association, etc.) who played a role in giving the department recommendations—produced several unsurprising potential strategies.
- Increased salary
- Smaller class size
- Entry-level screening tools
- Content knowledge and pedagogical skills assessment
None of the listed strategies are “proven” to increase academic achievement. Still, the state continues to draw away from local policies in favor of controversial state and federal mandates.
This is not to say that recruiting teachers to rural communities isn’t a problem; one study found that 75 percent of teachers in urban areas stay in their hometown, while only 43 percent of rural teachers remain. There are, however, more creative solutions to ensure students in rural communities receive a quality education. Here are a few:
- Expand educational opportunity through virtual learning (DESE lists this one, Bravo!).
- Eliminate state mandates that encourage the use of salary schedules, which judge teachers based on experience and education. A competitive salary early on for science and math teachers may drive more qualified teachers to the profession.
- Eliminate arduous certification requirements. The Bering Strait School District in Alaska has 15 schools covering more than 80,000 square miles, many of which must be reached by airplane. The Alaska State Department of Education has recently given waivers to school districts, allowing them to recruit teachers from out of field. “It’s really been handy. Just recently, we hired a language arts teacher with no background, but he’s a good teacher, he’s what we look for,” a Bering Strait personnel staff member told me.
- Allow school districts to operate like businesses—let administrators make personnel decisions that make the most sense to the students within the school district.