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Are School Districts Allocating Resources Equitably? The Every Student Succeeds Act, Teacher Experience Gaps, and Equitable Resource Allocation
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1661097 and the W. T. Grant Foundation under Grant No. 186848. The author also acknowledges funding from the University of Texas at El Paso College of Education and the Office of the Provost.
Over the past four decades, policymakers in the U.S. DOE have enacted various regulations to encourage school districts to allocate funding equitably across schools. Below I provide some background on federal funding regulation and discuss the changes made through ESSA. I then present summary statistics for variables that measure “teacher resources” (average teacher salary spending per student, teacher experience, and teacher-student ratios) across schools.
Ongoing federal efforts support equalizing access to experienced educators for low-income students and students of color, thereby narrowing the “teacher experience gap.” I show that while high-poverty and high-minority schools have larger class sizes and receive less funding nationally, school districts allocate resources equitably, on average, across schools. However, the least experienced teachers are still concentrated in high-poverty and high-minority schools, both across and within districts. I then show that additional state and local funding is associated with more equitable district resource allocation. The study offers recommendations for state and federal education policy related to the Every Student Succeeds Act.
TEACHER EXPERIENCE GAPS AND THE EVERY STUDENT SUCCEEDS ACT 1
Are School Districts Allocating Resources Equitably? The Every Student Succeeds Act, Teacher Experience Gaps, and Equitable Resource Allocation Lack of access to high-quality instructional resources prevents students from receiving adequate opportunities to learn (Darling-Hammond, 2000; 2004). Decades of research have documented unequal funding and inequitable access to experienced, high-quality educators across student race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status.
TEACHER EXPERIENCE GAPS AND THE EVERY STUDENT SUCCEEDS ACT 2
Because teachers are typically paid according to a district-level salary schedule, unequal funding within school districts is directly linked to the inequitable distribution of teacher experience across schools. The U.S. Department of Education (U.S. DOE) currently uses two approaches to place more experienced educators in high-poverty, Title I schools, thereby narrowing the “teacher experience gap.”
State education agencies across the nation are implementing plans for enhancing access to effective educators in high-poverty schools. Meanwhile, several recent high-profile legal cases have argued that state laws pertaining to teacher tenure create teacher experience gaps, especially in large urban school districts.
The DOE established new regulations that would require struggling districts to allocate equal teacher salary funding in high- and low-poverty schools.
A recent Brookings policy brief argued that districts already allocate the same level of funding to high- and low-poverty schools, on average, and requiring districts to do so would have no major impact on resource allocation (Dynarski & Kainz, 2016). In contrast, other studies identify large numbers of districts that do not provide equitable teacher salary funding across schools.
Meanwhile, several recent high-profile legal cases have argued that state laws pertaining to teacher tenure create teacher experience gaps, especially in large urban school districts.
I link recently released data from the Office of Civil Rights to other national datasets to measure “teacher resource gaps” – inequitable distributions of teacher salary spending, teacher experience, and teacher-student ratios – for low-income students and students of color nationally.
TEACHER EXPERIENCE GAPS AND THE EVERY STUDENT SUCCEEDS ACT 3
To what extent is district per-student funding associated with teacher resource gaps between high- and low-poverty schools and between high- and low-minority schools within districts?
Findings show that on average nationally, higher-poverty schools have less funding per student for teacher salaries, lower proportions of experienced teachers, and fewer teachers per student, compared to lower-poverty schools, even when controlling for district-level cost factors and comparing schools within the same state. The same findings hold for students who identify as an underrepresented minority (Black, Latina/o, Native American, Pacific Islander/Hawaiian native, or more than one race) and when comparing Title I schools to non-Title I schools.
However, when comparing schools within the same district, a different pattern emerges. Districts spend more on teacher salaries per student and have more teachers per student in their higher-poverty and higher-minority schools, but have less experienced teachers, compared to more advantaged schools in the same district. In other words, districts make up for the fact that their most novice teachers are concentrated in higher-poverty schools by lowering average class sizes in those schools, and as a result, spend more per student on teacher salaries in higher need schools.
These findings align with the federal “Comparability Rule,” which requires districts to allocate equal teacher-student ratios in Title I and non-Title I schools. However, these averages mask substantial variation in district teacher resource gaps. Among districts with at least four elementary schools, for example, 20% have large teacher salary gaps (i.e., allocate at least 10% less teacher salary funding per student to their highest-poverty elementary schools compared to their lowest-poverty elementary schools). Finally, I find that greater levels of resources at the district level, as measured by per-pupil funding, average teacher salaries, or expenditures per pupil.
David S. Knight, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Foundations, College of Education and Associate Director of the Center for Education Research and Policy Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso. His research focuses on educator labor markets, cost-effectiveness analysis, and school finance.