“Ideally, schools would focus on increasing the number of students their best teachers have responsibility for,” Hassel said. “I would think there would be some effort on the part of schools to push in that direction.”
Hansen said he would like to see the the findings reach school-level administrators (typically principals) with the authority to adjust classroom assignments based on a teacher’s effectiveness.
“What I hope the study does is help them understand there are potentially large consequences to this seemingly mundane task,” Hansen said. “By putting even just one or two more kids in a more effective teacher’s class, it can make a difference. There are meaningful gains from relatively small changes.”
While the student learning gains simulated in the study are encouraging, the achievement gap remained for economically disadvantaged students. Hasten said that’s because his simulation only moved students within a school. That doesn’t change the fact that some schools have more effective teachers than others, and the ones with the most socioeconomically challenged students are typically more likely to employ new and/or underperforming teachers. As the report concludes, “class-size-shifting strategy alone cannot reduce preexisting inequalities, and some other intervention would be necessary to remediate entirely gaps in students’ access to the best teachers.” The simulation may not solve all of the underlying issues, but it's moving the needle in the right direction, Hansen said.
Some districts are already experimenting with creative approaches to expanding the reach of their best teachers, whether it’s through using video-conferencing to record their lessons or creating new positions where they have opportunities to work with more students without adding to their class sizes. Public Impact is working with schools in Charlotte, N.C. and Nashville on this very issue, said Hassel. Charlotte created 19 positions where teachers would take on additional student responsibilities with a sizable pay bump, and the district received more than 700 applications, Hassel said.
Sarah Almy, director of teacher quality for The Education Trust, a nonpartisan organization in Washington, D.C. that focuses on closing achievement and opportunity gaps in public schools, told me the premise of the Fordham study is worth exploring. But Almy added that the problem of the weakest teachers often being relegated to the neediest students needs to be confronted.
Rearranging classroom assignments “is only going to go so far in terms of creating more equitable access for kids,” Almy said. “It’s not just about getting more kids within a building to highly effective teachers, but getting more highly effective teachers into the building.”