Vulnerable students need high-quality teachers

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As researchers devoted to studying and improving urban education, we felt compelled to respond to the inaccurate views of black families and teacher quality in Tony Norman’s Feb. 18 column (“Biggest Gap in Black Kids’ Learning: Parents”). We disagree with Mr. Norman’s argument that the emphasis on high-quality teachers as one way to reduce the racial achievement gap is somehow “misplaced.”

Black leaders and educational researchers have long advocated for better learning conditions for black children, and decades of research have shown that black parents care deeply about their children’s education but are often marginalized by educational inequities.

Mr. Norman argues that the focus on teacher quality is misplaced because a desire to learn is sufficient condition for individual students to overcome barriers to educational access and quality for youth of color. Again, years of educational research demonstrate that this is a myth.

The quality of teachers, including their high expectations for black students, has been shown to have a profound effect on students’ academic success. But recent studies in Pittsburgh and nationally have shown that black students are twice as likely to be assigned a weak or under-qualified teacher as white students.

In the face of the evidence, to argue against the need for teacher quality in urban schools amounts to arguing that black students don’t deserve high-quality teachers. In response to Mr. Norman’s demand that those given the least must do more, we stress that we owe the most to our most vulnerable and underserved students.

Associate Professor of Education
Assistant Professor of Education
Center for Urban Education
University of Pittsburgh

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