Study Finds Troubling Patterns of Teacher Assignments
American Sociological Association
April 23, 2013
Even within the same school, lower-achieving students often are
taught by less-experienced teachers, as well as by teachers who received
their degrees from less-competitive colleges, according to
a new study by researchers fromthe Stanford Graduate School of
Education and the World Bank. The study, using data
from one of the nation’s largest school districts,
also shows that student class assignments vary
within schools by a teacher’s gender and race.
In a paper published in the April issue of
Sociology of Education, the researchers present the results of a
comprehensive analysis of teacher assignments in the
nation’s fourth-largest school district, Miami-Dade
County Public Schools. Their findings identify trends that may contribute to
teacher turnover and achievement gaps nationwide.
Previous research indicates that high-quality teac
hers can significantly improve education outcomes for
students. However, not all students have
equal access to the best teachers.
“It is well-known that teachers systematically sort across schools,
disadvantaging low-income, minority,
and low-achieving students,” said Demetra Kalogrides, a research associate at
the Graduate School of Education’s Center for Education Policy Analysis and
one of the study’s three authors. “Our findings are novel because they address
the assignment of teachers to classes within schools. We cannot assume that
teacher sorting stops at the school doors.”
The authors note that more research needs to be done
to see whether such patterns exist within schools
across the country.
The assignment of teachers to students is the result
of a complex process, involving school leaders,
teachers, and parents. While principals are constrained
by teachers’ qualifications — not all high school
teachers, for instance, can teach physics — they also
may use their authority to reward certain teachers
with the more desirable assignments or to appease teachers who are
instrumental to school operations.
Teachers with more power, due to experience or ot
her factors, may be able to choose their preferred
classes. Parents, particularly those with more reso
urces, also may try to intervene in the process to
ensure that their children are
taught by certain teachers.
“We wanted to understand which teachers are teachi
ng which students,” said Susanna Loeb, a Stanford
professor of education, the director of the Center for Education Policy Analysis,
and an author of the study. “In particular, are low-achieving students more likely
to be assigned to certain teachers, and if so, why?”
Using extensive data from Miami-Dade, the authors
compared the average achievement of teachers’
students in the year before the students were assigned
to them. They discovered that certain teachers —
those with less experience, those from less-com
petitive colleges, female teachers, and black and
Hispanic teachers — are more likely to work with lo
wer-achieving students than are other teachers in the
They found these patterns at both the el
ementary and middle/high school levels.
According to the researchers, teachers who have been at a school for a long
time may be able to
influence the assignment process in order to secure t
heir preferred classes — for instance, classes with
higher-achieving students. T
he study found that teachers with 10 or
more years of experience, as well as
teachers who have held leadership positions, are
students on average.
Assigning lower-achieving student
s to inexperienced teachers could
have significant repercussions.
According to the researchers, it could increase tu
rnover among new teachers, since novice teachers are
more likely to quit when assigned
more low-achieving students.
In addition, it could exacerbate within-school achi
evement gaps — for exampl
e, the black-white gap.
Since they are lower-achieving on
average, minority and poor students are often assigned to less-
experienced teachers than wh
ite and non-poor students. Less-expe
rienced teachers tend to be less
effective, so this pattern is likely to reinforce the
relationships between race and achievement and poverty
and achievement, the researchers said.
The study also found that lower-ac
hieving students are taught by the
teachers who graduated from less-
competitive colleges, based on test scores for admi
ssion and acceptance rates. This trend is particularly
evident at the middle school and high school levels, possibly due to the more
varied demands of middle
and high school courses. Teachers from more co
mpetitive colleges may have deeper subject knowledge
than their colleagues from less-competitive colleges, l
eading principals to assign them to more advanced
courses, the researchers said.
The researchers noted that assignment patterns vary
across schools. Experienced teachers appear to
have more power over the assignment
process when there are more of t
hem in a school; senior teachers
are assigned even higher-achieving students when there is
a larger contingent of experienced teachers in
At the same time, schools under more accountability pr
essure are less likely to assign higher-achieving
students to more-experienced teachers than schools
that are not under accountability pressure.
Finally, according to the findings, class assignmen
ts vary depending on a teacher’s gender and race.
Since female teachers are more likely to teach
special education than male
teachers, on average they
work with lower-achieving student
s than their male colleagues. Also, black and Hispanic teachers, when
compared with white teachers in the same schools,
work with more minority and poor students, who tend
to be lower-achieving.
Unlike sorting based on experience, the authors said
that teacher-student matching based on race could
improve student achievement because previous rese
arch suggests that minority students may learn more
when taught by minority teachers.
“Our analyses are a first step in describing within
-school class assignments, an important, yet often
overlooked, form of teacher sorting,” said Kalogrides.
The other co-author is Tara Béteille
of the World Bank. T
he research was supported by a grant from the
Institute of Education Sciences.
About the American Sociological Association and the
Sociology of Education
The American Sociological Association (
), founded in 1905, is a
association dedicated to serving sociologists in
their work, advancing sociology as a science and
profession, and promoting the contributions
to and use of sociology by society.
Sociology of Education
a quarterly, peer-reviewed journal of the ASA.
The research article described above is available by r
equest for members of the m
edia. For a copy of the
full study, contact Daniel Fowler, ASA’s Media Relations
and Public Affairs Office
r, at (202) 527-7885 or
For more information about the study, members of
the media can also contact Jonathan Rabinovitz,
Stanford Graduate School of Education, at (
650) 724-9440 or firstname.lastname@example.org and Dan Stober,
Stanford News Service, at (650) 721-6965 or
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