Equitable Access to Excellent Teachers and Leaders

Put simply, the term equitable access refers to the notion that every student in any classroom in any public school in America should have the same opportunity as any other student for being taught by a great teacher who is supported by a great principal. There is abundant evidence, at present, that students from low-income families or students of color are disproportionately taught by educators who are less great (for a discussion of recent research, see this Institute of Education Sciences brief). 

The definition of equitable access becomes complicated as stakeholders and policymakers attempt to define “great” and then measure it consistently and well.

Should a great teacher be defined as one who is highly qualified and an expert in her field? One who can raise her students’ cognitive achievement test scores above and beyond what the average teacher in her district has accomplished? One who has many years of experience teaching his grade level and subject area? One who inspires resilience and strength of character, and a love of learning among her hardest-to-reach students? One who constantly improves his practice and shares effective strategies with others? Or perhaps some combination of these?

How Does Federal Policy Define Equitable Access?

The definition of equitable  access used in federal laws and administrative guidance, has evolved over time.

The 2002 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) defined equitable teacher and leader access in terms of teacher qualifications and experience: “Ensuring that poor and minority students are not taught by unqualified, inexperienced, or out-of-field teachers at higher rates than other students.”

In July 2014, the U.S. Department of Education announced the Excellent Educators for All initiative to help states and school districts support great educators for the students who need them most.  States must work with stakeholders to submit new plans to address equity gaps by focusing on what their data say about the root causes of inequities in their state and school districts.  The plans also must identify solutions that are linked to the identified root causes. 

The Impact of Educator Equity Gaps

The impact of equity gaps is real. Recent research indicates that inequitable access places poor students two to four weeks behind their counterparts in reading and math, accounting for about 2 percent to 4 percent of the achievement gap. (For a detailed discussion of the research, see this Institute of Education Sciences brief).Because effective teachers and leaders are so essential to student learning, achievement gaps cannot be adequately remedied without addressing teacher access as a wholly necessary, although insufficient, step.

Considering Access to Great School Leaders

Although federal policy does not require all states to focus on equity in terms of school leadership, the GTL Center considers excellent school leaders of critical importance to ensuring equitable access to excellent teachers.. Given the strong influence that principals have on recruiting, hiring, assigning, developing, and supporting teachers, the rigorous support of equitable access to excellent leaders for rural and other hard-to-staff schools is of critical importance.

The  Moving Toward Equity online tool includes strategies, resources, and examples to support equitable access to great teachers and leaders for all students, particularly underresourced students such as students with disabilities, English language learners, and rural students.