Unequal access, unequal results at Miami-Dade County Schools

The research is clear that teachers are the most significant in-school factor affecting student achievement. Yet, across the country, we see a persistent and shameful pattern, whereby low-income students of color are far more likely to have the least experienced and least effective teachers.

And Florida is no exception.

On Wednesday, in a report commissioned by the Urban League of Greater Miami, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) — http://www.nctq.org/dmsStage/MIami_Teacher_Distribution — found widespread inequality of access to the best teachers in Miami-Dade Public Schools. More specifically, NCTQ found that the two voting districts in Miami with the largest proportion of African-American and low-income students, Districts 1 and 2, had almost two-thirds of all first-year teachers. In addition, those same voting districts had far fewer teachers rated as highly effective, and on average had teachers that generated less student progress than the state average.

I am appalled by these findings. As an activist from the early days of the civil-rights movement, I vividly recall the systematic injustice of the education system, and the hope that was sparked by the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. That decision affirmed for one and all that education was the pathway to opportunity in this country, and also signaled that education was a fundamental right that could not and should not be denied to any child regardless of race.

Sixty years later, however, we continue to find ourselves in a similar situation, where our must vulnerable, black and low-income children are being systematically denied educational opportunity and all the benefits that entails. In doing so, we are saying to some of our children that they simply do not matter, and this is unconscionable.

While we can say we have moved forward on many issues such as funding and access to resources, the true promise of education has yet to be fully realized, and never will be as long as there is systemic and widespread lack of access to the one thing that matters most in the education of a child: quality teachers.

By failing to provide every child, particularly those that struggle the most, with the most experienced and effective teachers, we are making a choice to not educate some of our students. And when we fail to educate some, we let all of our students down as well as our community.

In not ensuring that our most vulnerable students have access to the tools, resources, and most importantly, the teachers they need to succeed, we perpetuate a two-tiered system where opportunity is only a reality for the few rather than the many. And our community cannot prosper when some of our citizens are knowingly denied their fundamental right to an education.

There are solutions. In the past, Miami-Dade has instituted involuntary transfer programs that have increased teacher effectiveness at high-needs schools and significantly leveled the playing field for low-income students of color.

Our school district can implement programs that will better support teachers to improve their effectiveness and better prepare teachers to meet the challenges of the classroom from day one.

Now is the time for all stakeholders — parents, teachers, administrators, and school board members — to come together and take action to ensure that every single student has access to all the tools necessary for success, including high quality teachers.

We have the opportunity and ability to make the true promise of education a reality for all of our students. The question is: Do we have the will to do so? I believe we do; in fact I know we will.

T. Willard Fair is president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Miami.