We all remember our greatest teachers – the ones who taught our favorite subject and, especially, those who helped us learn the subject we found to be most difficult. While there are many things that can be done to raise student achievement, great teaching is the most important. This is especially true for students who struggle academically.
Tennessee has just gotten valuable new information about great teaching across the state in the new report, Equitable Access to Highly Effective Teachers for Tennessee Students. The research was compiled for the Tennessee Department of Education by the Research and Strategy Team in the department’s Division of Data and Research.
It was not surprising that the report finds that Tennessee students at the lowest proficiency level make the largest gains after having a highly effective teacher for two or more years in a row. But this report also reveals, for the first time, the extent of uneven access to great teaching that affects our ability to deliver on the promise of preparing all students for success after high school. The report has put numbers to what its authors call Tennessee’s “effective teaching gap” between below-basic students and advanced students.
The report finds that math teachers rated highly effective taught about 45 percent of students at the low end of performance, compared with 55 percent of advanced students receiving instruction from highly effective math teachers. The state gap was smaller in English language arts (ELA), but that was largely because the percentage of all students taught by highly effective ELA teachers is smaller.
Statewide, the biggest effective teaching gap was 10 points, but on the district level there is considerable variation. In one district, twice as many advanced students had effective teachers as low-performing students. Yet other districts had small or no gaps, indicating that these districts have found ways to provide more struggling students with great teachers. Districts across the state can from districts that have succeeded in narrowing the effective teaching gap.
For some districts, there is clearly a problem with what the report identifies as the “supply” of effective teachers. But there are multiple ways districts can address this problem, including offering professional development that helps teachers already in the classroom grow and rise to become highly effective teachers. Forming district partnerships with teacher preparation programs and beefing up recruitment and compensation programs are long-term options for districts that struggle with effective teaching gaps, the report says.
The first step toward fixing a problem is identifying it, and Equitable Access to Highly Effective Teachers for Tennessee Students has provided valuable insights on the scope of the effective teaching gap. Addressing the challenges posed will take a sustained, phased approach with targeted, district-level interventions. This work should reflect the sense of urgency our students deserve.
Tennessee aims to rank among the top half of states for student achievement. To reach that goal, we must ensure that students who are the farthest behind have the great teaching they need to be able to catch up and advance.
Very truly yours,