Georgia Policy Labs Reports

Promoting Equitable Access to Effective Teachers

Promoting Equitable Access to Effective Teachers

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M. Cade Lawson:


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Teachers are the most important school-based input to a student’s education, with research showing that exposure to more effective teachers during childhood provides benefits that persist well into adulthood. However, the question of whether all students have equal access to effective teachers has proven difficult to answer. If disparities do exist, uneven access to effective teachers may be a driving force behind differences in academic achievement and later-life outcomes between advantaged and disadvantaged students. As such, understanding the way teacher quality is distributed has important implications for teacher recruitment and retention policies at the state and school-district level.

In this report, Tim Sass and Cade Lawson use student-level achievement data to provide descriptive evidence on the distribution of teacher quality across a large school district in the metro-Atlanta area. We discuss where disparities exist and how interventions to attract and retain teachers could potentially reduce these differences. Our analysis focuses on the distribution of teacher quality both geographically and over time. We compare differences in access to effective teachers between students in parts of the district with varying levels of povery, which we refer to as the Higher-Poverty Region (HPR) and Lower-Poverty Region (LPR), and we assess how the distribution of teacher effectiveness has changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We find that teacher effectiveness is lower on average in the Higher-Poverty Region than in the Lower-Poverty Region, resulting in a teacher quality gap equal to roughly twice the typical difference in performance between a first-year teacher and one with 3–5 years of experience when extended across a full school year. However, we observe substantial overlap in the distributions of teacher effectiveness for the two regions, implying that there are many teachers of comparable effectiveness working in both the Lower- and Higher-Poverty Regions. Differences in average teacher effectiveness are largely driven by a concentration of the most-effective teachers in the LPR and the least-effective teachers in the HPR. Lastly, we find that variation in teacher quality increased across the entire district after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the largest increase in variability occurring in the Lower-Poverty Region. We conclude by discussing potential policy options that could make the distribution of teacher quality more equal and providing suggestions for future work to learn about the mechanisms underlying these discrepancies.


Promoting Equitable Access to Effective Teachers