Miami-Dade school officials respond to report that poor, under-performing schools get most of the rookie teachers

In Miami-Dade, the least-experienced teachers are concentrated in the district’s poorest and worst performing schools, according to a report released Wednesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality.

The council points to research that says students learn less in classrooms led by rookie educators to conclude that the neediest students in the county get less-effective teachers.

Done at the request of the Urban League of Greater Miami, the study was presented to community members Wednesday night.

“When we see data like this, we know it is time to redouble our efforts,” said Nancy Waymack, managing director of district policy for the council.

Miami-Dade school district representatives were on hand to respond. They stressed that the district is already aware of many of the issues raised and has been working to address them, and highlighted students gains, especially among minorities.

“These are recommendations and challenges we have recognized far, far earlier,” said Associate Superintendent Pablo Ortiz. “You need to look at the entire picture.”

The study found that 60 percent of first-year educators are assigned to School Board districts 1 and 2, which include the Liberty City and Miami Gardens areas. Teacher retention and absenteeism were also worse in those districts.

These schools represent 70 percent of those in Miami-Dade that have been assigned D and F grades under Florida’s rating system, the report said. The schools are also more likely to serve students who are minorities, and whose family income qualifies them for free or reduced lunch.

Studies show that family income is one of the greatest indicators of student success or failure. Poor students in Dade were 28 percentage points less likely to pass standardized tests in math, according to the council’s report.

In response to the points raised, Ortiz highlighted improved graduation rates, specifically among minority students. He also stressed the effect poverty rates have on student performance.

“When we look at the title of a research study that says ‘Unequal Access and Unequal Results,’ it paints only a limited picture of what’s really happening in our schools,” Ortiz said.

Despite the strong response by district officials, T. Williard Fair, president of the Urban League, said the issues remain: Inexperienced teachers are disproportionately assigned to underperforming schools.

“They came in here with charts to try to justify,” Fair said. “We’re saying the best teachers with the best experience must be” in the neediest schools.

“The quality of the teacher is important,” he added.

United Teachers of Dade President Fedrick Ingram said he recognized schools should have a mix of teachers of all abilities, but he stressed that attention also needs to be paid to external factors. Parent involvement, poverty levels and resources available at these schools also play into student achievement, he said.

“If you’re going to try to solve the problem, let’s talk about all the problems,” Ingram said.

The study gave five key recommendations to improve diversity in teacher tenure at poorly performing schools, including coming up with incentives to attract groups of high-performing teachers to high-need schools, training principals to retain top-performing teachers and scheduling professional development courses outside school hours to reduce the amount of time teachers spend out of the classroom.

The School Board says it is already taking some of the suggested steps.

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the name of the National Council on Teacher Quality.

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