• from The Columbus Dispatch - "Ohio's schools need equity in quality of teachers."

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Ohio's schools need equity in quality of teachers.

December 17, 2002

By William L. Bainbridge

At a holiday social gathering years ago, several classroom teachers were discussing their "promotions." As a young administrator, I listened up.

My initial positive reaction soon turned to a sickening lump in my stomach. What these teachers were referring to as a professional advancement was really a transfer in their assignments from a school serving students from mostly low socio- economic backgrounds to one with students from more affluent families. A few burning questions came to mind. Where is your sense of mission? Don't you realize youngsters living in poverty need you as much as those with well-educated parents? If not you, who?

Those teachers were brought to mind by the reactions of political leaders to the Ohio Supreme Court's fourth ruling that our system of funding public education through high school is unconstitutional. Our elected leaders still have no reasonable answers on how to make the funding system constitutional.

Don't they realize the prime issue has little to do with the facilities on which they have been focusing their attention or methods of distributing tax revenues? The reality of the equity issue is very simple: Children living in high property-tax areas are much more likely to have high-quality teachers and high-quality educational experiences and learning opportunities.

Children who score high on proficiency and other tests are taught by teachers who are more recruitable than those in other districts. Teachers simply are working within our artificially created supply-and-demand system, and taking care of their own needs and those of their families.

How do we come to this conclusion? Teachers on average in the higher socioeconomic school districts have:
  • Higher grade-point averages in their college course work.
  • Higher achievement as measured by scores on standardized tests.
  • Previous teaching experience.
  • High-powered references.
  • More routine background-check results.
  • Higher scores on "structured" interviews.
Perhaps the last point is the most important in terms of selecting people to work with children. Psychologists have developed so-called structured interviews that competitive school systems use in the teacher-selection process. This has proved highly reliable in determining vital characteristics that make teachers successful. Those characteristics include a deep underlying belief that children can learn, the ability to stimulate students to think, ambitious personal goals, an objective outlook, a drive to complete tasks, willingness to try new ideas and techniques, a feeling of satisfaction from the growth of students, effective listening skills, and a desire to establish rapport.

For school systems with the dollars and desire to develop sophisticated human-resource capabilities, the structured-interview process usually leads to the selection of child-oriented people who can effectively nurture and educate children.

And the higher socioeconomic districts attract better teacher-applicants because the candidates know:
  • High property-tax districts pay, on average, higher salaries.
  • Financial stability of such districts creates better job security.
  • Working conditions tend to be better in those districts where caps are less likely on construction and maintenance, even with the emerging state aid for facilities.
  • Career-ladder opportunities often are better.
Many teachers labor in our inner-city and poor rural school systems with a high sense of mission, but over time, the inequities in hiring and retaining good teachers lead to differences in the performance of students.

If the funding-system ever is to be constitutional and better balanced for all children, we must first fix the human-resource recruitment issue by providing all school districts with tools and incentives to attract the best candidates. Hawaii is the only state to have systemically solved the salary and recruitment inequity problems with its statewide salary schedule and human-resource management system. Hawaii took the extreme measure of creating a unitary school system for the state.

This kind of system may or may not be the answer for Ohio. But identification and discussion of viable options to correct the human-resource inequity must be done by our state leaders sooner rather than later. Surely, the leaders of Ohio can at least design some steps to begin to achieve human-resource equity in our public schools.

As a result of the latest high-court ruling the pressure is now even more intense to start serious school-finance reform.

is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data firm.

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