Having access to excellent teachers is a civil right
By Freddie Allen
WASHINGTON — A new study suggests access to “excellent teachers” should be a civil right and students should be able to “take legal action” to get better results.
The Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan Washington think tank, partnered with Public Impact on the report that recommends a number of federal policy reforms designed to increase the influence of excellent teachers in American classrooms. Public Impact is a research and advocacy group focused on the educational needs of underserved students.
“Excellent teachers — those in the top 20 percent to 25 percent of the profession in terms of student progress — produce well more than a year of student-learning growth for each year they spend instructing a cohort of students,” stated CAP/PI joint study. The study found one way to ensure the highest-performing teachers instructed more students would be to make it a federal law.
“If schools and districts do not provide such a child with an excellent teacher, the child should be empowered to take legal action to enforce the right,” the report stated. “Legislating a new civil right to excellent teachers obligates federal and state governments to enforce what should be a fundamental guarantee.”
For poor students who often inherit poorly-trained teachers in poverty-stricken schools, getting access to excellent teachers could mean the difference in educational outcomes that have wide-ranging consequences for the economy. According to the Center for American Progress, nearly 43 percent of Black children under age five live in poverty. The Children’s Defense Fund reported about one in five Black children survive life in extreme poverty in 2012 compared to one in 18 white children.
Schools with a 90 percent white student body outspent 90 percent minority schools by $733 per student. A CAP report on public school spending estimated those funds could pay for nine veteran teachers or technology upgrades and resource staffers. As the United States grows ever-dependent on a well-educated, diverse workforce, the need to fix the academic achievement gap becomes even more critical. By 2050, Blacks and Latinos will account for 42 percent of the labor force. “Had we closed the academic-performance gaps of African American and (Latino) students in 2008, the United States would have gained between $310 billion and $525 billion in gross domestic product, or GDP,” stated a CAP brief on the school-readiness gap and preschool benefits for minorities.
According to the brief, in less than five years, one will need an associate’s degree or better to work in almost half (45 percent) of all jobs in the United States, a rung on the education ladder nearly 75 percent of Blacks haven’t reached. Closing the achievement gap will take innovative strategies and great teachers.
The CAP/PI joint study found that “children who start out one year behind their peers can close the achievement gap if they have excellent teachers two years in a row.” The study continued: “Children starting out two years behind can pull even with their peers if they have excellent teachers four years in a row.” Without year-in and year-out exposure to great teaching, students that fall behind often never recover.
Researchers from the University of London and University of Málaga in Spain found raising teacher pay leads to greater competition in the job market and elevated professional status across the nation. According to researchers, making the teaching profession “substantially more attractive” would also mean rewarding innovation in education with increased funding for highly successful classroom models, updating qualifications of current grants to address the needs of a diverse student population, and focusing on research and development in education at the federal level.
The CAP/PI joint study noted that the research and development budget for education is woefully underfunded compared to other government agencies. “The Department of Defense spends $70 billion per year on research and development, while the Department of Education spends less than $1 billion, not even a quarter of a percent of the total education budget,” the report stated.
The federal government accounts for 10 percent of all of the money spent on educating our nation’s students. State and local groups cover the rest of the tab and direct critical policy changes. The joint study argues that federal government needs to get more involved. “Federal policy changes to support state and local education agencies in providing all students with excellent teaching could flip the odds students now face,” stated the report. “That kind of consistent access to great teaching is just what students need to succeed in school, college, and, most importantly, life.”