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Teachers in High-Poverty Schools Unfairly Penalized

photo of an empty classroom filled with wooden desks, map of the United States, and a basket of sunflowers on the teacher's desk

A recent study finds teachers in high-poverty schools are unfairly penalized on classroom observations.

In a recent article, EducationWeek reports on a study which found the typical Black teacher in Chicago ranked at the 37th percentile in classroom observation scores, while the typical white teacher ranked at the 55th percentile. However, once researchers controlled for school and classroom factors such as student poverty, behavioral infractions, and prior year test scores, the gap disappeared.

When teachers in high-poverty schools are marked down for factors out of their control, teachers could leave the school, or the profession entirely, having a negative effect on diversity. The data shows that Black teachers are not lower quality than non-Black teachers, they are just more likely to teach in higher-poverty schools.

Lauren Sartain, assistant professor of education at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and co-author of the report, notes, “Principals and teachers really value classroom observations as a way to get feedback on their practice. People tend to think [the observation rubric] provides a pretty good definition of what good teaching looks like.” Based on the findings of the study, Sartain goes on to question whether the rubric’s distinguished ratings are even attainable for teachers in high-poverty schools.

Other important findings in the study include:

  • White teachers who work in high-poverty schools are just as likely to receive penalties in their classroom observations.
  • Instructional methods used in high-poverty schools often conflict with what evaluators are trained to look for.
  • Evaluation scores can determine promotion, tenure, and pay bonuses. They can also lead to performance-related layoffs or a teacher deciding the profession isn’t for them.

The study’s authors suggest making observations more equitable by making statistical adjustments to control for differences across schools and classrooms. Finding a fair way to observe teachers in all settings may be especially important this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

For more information on the topic, check out Teachers in High-Poverty Schools Penalized Unfairly on Observations, Study Says.

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Sarah James
Sarah James
Communications Specialist

Sarah James joined HR Services in 2019. Prior to that, she worked at a Central Texas school district for 11 years. She is responsible for managing web content, HR Services articles, HRX newsletter, social media accounts, and marketing efforts.

James has a bachelor’s degree in communications from Concordia University Texas in Austin.

Email Sarah if you have a story idea for the HRX.

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