Teachers At Minority-Heavy Schools Paid Less, Survey Finds

Teachers serving schools with larger minority populations are being paid less than their peers, data collected by the U.S. Department of Education reveals.
by | September 29, 2011

Teachers in schools with greater diversity are being paid significantly less than their peers, according to data released on Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education.

A survey of nearly 7,000 school districts nationwide revealed teachers at schools with more Latino and African-American students are paid $2,500 less on average than other teachers in their school district. The results were drawn from 2,217 of those districts in which more than 20 percent but less than 80 percent of the student population was made up of minority students.

"America has been battling inequity in education for decades but these data show that we cannot let up," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. "Children who need the most too often get the least. It's a civil rights issue, an economic security issue and a moral issue."

Mike Petrilli, executive director of the Fordham Institute, a reform-minded education policy think tank, tells Governing he concurs with Duncan's assessment. A lack of quality teachers in low-income classrooms, which are more frequently populated with minority students, leads to poorer outcomes for those students.

"It's not surprising. We've known for a long time that there are teacher quality gaps between schools that serve a lot of poor kids and schools that serve more affluent kids," Pettrilli says. "A variety of policies and incentives push people with more experience toward those wealthier schools."

The sources of the disparity are difficult to pinpoint, Petrilli says, but probably lie in inequity in funding and the underlying fact that low-income schools find it more difficult to recruit teachers. Those they do hire are often younger and therefore make less, Petrilli explains.

That pattern can be directly connected to the overarching achievement gap between minority students in low-income areas and their more affluent counterparts, Petrilli says. The general consensus is the education reform movement is better teachers are needed to improve achievement among those students, he explains, so policies must be developed to close that teacher pay gap.

Some ideas have been proposed to address the issue. In Washington, for example, state legislators approved a program that offers $5,000 bonuses to teachers who take positions at "challenging" schools, which are defined by the number of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. It remains to be seen, though, if those policies will have the desired effect, Petrilli says.

"We take the kids who need the most and, in some respects, we give them the least," Petrilli says. "We give them the least qualified teachers, teachers we're paying less, teachers who by a variety of measures are not as strong as other teachers. If we were serious about closing the achievement gap, we would flip that."

Anissa Listak, executive director of Urban Teacher Residency United, a professional development group for educators who serve high-need schools, concurs with Petrilli's assessment, telling Governing that these schools are "under-resourced and experience high teacher turnover," which make it difficult to sustain growth in their students.

"We believe that teachers working in high-need areas should, if anything, be paid more than their counterparts, as well as receive induction and mentoring support," Listak says. "We hope that new policies impacting teacher compensation will help to equalize this disparity."

The American Federation of Teachers declined to comment on the data. Multiple calls to the National Education Association for comment were not returned.

There is little research available on fiscal equality between schools, according to the department press release. This information, part of the 2009-2010 Civil Rights Data Collection, should be a "valuable tool" for the department, Russlynn Ali, the assistant secretary for civil rights, said in a statement.

Darren Briscoe, an Education Department spokesman, tells Governing the department hasn't yet developed a plan to deal with the issue. "This is a starting point. We have to identify the problem before we craft a remedy," Briscoe says.


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