For too long, poor and minority students have tended to be taught by ineffective and unqualified teachers ("Scrutiny Rises on Placement of Best Teachers," Education Week, Feb. 18). Two questions immediately come to mind: Why is this so and what can be done to remedy the situation?
Most teachers try to avoid working in schools where students bring to class huge deficits in socialization and motivation because they are hard to teach. Before subject matter can be taught, teachers are forced to address a host of factors largely beyond their control. As a result, they assume the roles of psychologist, parent and police. This is not what they were trained for, nor what they want to do. It's not that suburban schools don't have their share of problems. Of course they do, but they pale in comparison with those in inner-city and rural schools.
Attempts to recruit and retain the best teachers where they are needed the most have largely been unsuccessful. Financial incentives have not done the job. (When Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor of California, he proposed combat pay, but to no avail.) Critics argue the incentives to date have not been great enough. If teachers were offered far larger cash bonuses, the results would be better.
I don't think so. There will always be a relatively few teachers who will jump at the chance to make far higher salaries and performance bonuses. But they won't remain in their new positions for very long. I base this view on my belief that teachers are not motivated by the same incentives as employees in other fields. College graduates who choose to make a career in teaching do so for reasons that are different. They are not interested in fame or power. Yes, they want higher salaries. But this is not their primary objective.
If we want to create equitable distribution of teachers, we have to make conditions for teaching in schools serving poor and minority students so attractive that few will refuse the opportunity to teach there. I suggest starting with three periods a day, each containing a class of no more than 15 students. I'd then add a non-certificated adult to act as a teaching assistant for each teacher. This will be expensive, but if we're serious about getting the best talent it's the price we have to pay.