The least effective teachers are being moved to the most critical grades for early learning according to a emerging research. The practice, known as “strategic staffing,” is meant to boost scores among student in higher grades taking standardized testing. But, in practice, the approach may put young learners behind and have profound ramifications for their educational outcomes.
The researchers behind a new study published in the American Education Research Journal looked at longitudinal administrative data from a large urban school district. Their goal was to understand how district principals use staffing to face the pressures of standardized testing, the means by which their schools are judged by state and federal educational bureaucracies. And their conclusion reinforces a growing understanding that public school principals are prone to moving teachers with poor performance into grades that do not receive standardized testing.
Notably, the best teachers (or highest performing) were regularly moved away from kindergarten, first, and second grade.The problem with this logic is that the earliest grades are crucial for childhood socialization and education outcomes. If these teachers wind up inheriting children who have been taught poorly, they’ll almost certainly struggle to not only improve test scores but engage eager learners.
Prior to 2010, the prevailing wisdom was that any benefit from a kid’s education in the earliest grades largely faded by the time they had reached high school. However, a groundbreaking 2010 study by a group of economists found that those benefits then re-emerge in adulthood. They found children with better education in the earliest school years attained higher education, better employment and even health outcomes, all valuing over $300,000 per child over the course of their life.
A poor education in those early years, however, puts a child behind. There is evidence suggesting children with less qualified teachers in the early years of their education arrive up to a year behind in their education when they reach testable grades. This sets the stage for teachers in those grades to engage in what one researcher calls “educational triage” where less effort is put into children who are both underachieving and overachieving in order to focus on kids who are “on the bubble” in terms of passing standardized tests. That’s a huge disservice to both kids that are struggling and those that could be improving good skills.
What makes the most sense based on the data would be to place the highest achieving teachers in the earliest grades where they could have the biggest benefit to a child’s life outcome. That solid start would mean entering later grades better prepared, naturally boosting test scores. Either that or the U.S. could stop relying so heavily on standardized testing. Wouldn’t that be nice?