A New Study Has Identified 156 School Districts ‘Beating the Odds’ for Student Achievement. Here’s What They Have in Common.

Experienced teachers, not low student-to-teacher ratios, are the key to positive academic outcomes, particularly among non-white students. So says an interesting new study from the Palo-Alto based Learning Policy Institute.

The Institute analyzed 435 districts with at least 200 African-American or Hispanic students and 200 white students. The researchers then identified 156 “positive outliers” where students are performing exceptionally well compared to state averages.

A list of these high performing districts can be found on pages 8-10 of the study, available here. What many of them have in common, aside from positive socioeconomic indicators, is a high level of teacher accreditation and preparedness.

“The proportion of teachers holding less than a full credential (i.e., an intern credential, temporary or short-term permit, or waiver for their teaching position) shows a strong negative association with student achievement for all student groups,” the researchers write. “In addition, teachers’ average experience levels are positively associated with achievement for African American and Hispanic students. We recognize that these teacher qualifications are also associated with other variables that influence staff recruitment and retention and may signal broader differentials in teaching and learning conditions. California districts that have been able to find and keep fully prepared teachers have supported stronger student achievement for African American and Hispanic students as well as for White students.”

Specifically, the analysis found that “for every 10% increase in the percent of teachers working on emergency permits, waivers, or intern credentials, the average achievement for students of color is lower, on average, by almost 0.10 standard deviations. For White students, every 10% increase in the percent of teachers teaching on substandard credentials is associated with achievement that is nearly .07 standard deviations lower.”

The findings are especially important in light of the shortage of qualified teachers in California. As EdSource notes, Gov. Gavin Newsom has just proposed a $90 million teacher loan forgiveness program that would reimburse up to $20,000 in education expenses. The proposal seeks to get thousands of new teachers into California schools.

The Learning Policy Institute isn’t quite done with its research. A follow-up analysis will also examine the impact of classroom policies and practices on student achievement.