Access to Effective Teaching for Low-Income Students

Prepared for
U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences

Inequality in educational outcomes is substantial and persistent in the United States. Recent policy initiatives to address these gaps have emphasized teachers’ contributions to student achievement. A key question for policymakers is whether inequality in educational outcomes is caused by differences in students’ access to effective teachers. 

The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) contracted with Mathematica Policy Research to examine low-income students’ access to effective teachers in a diverse set of school districts. This project examines whether low-income students are taught by less effective teachers than high-income students, and if so, whether reducing this inequity would close the student achievement gap. The project also analyzes how the hiring of teachers and their subsequent movement into and out of schools could affect low-income students’ access to effective teachers. The study includes fourth- to eighth-grade teachers over five school years (2008-2009 to 2012-2013) in 26 school districts across the country. 

Key findings include:

  • There are small differences in the average effectiveness of teachers of high- and low-income students.
  • High- and low-income students have similar chances of being taught by the most effective teachers and the least effective teachers in the average study district.
  • In a small subset of study districts, there is meaningful inequity in access to effective teachers in math.
  • Teacher hiring and transfer patterns are consistent with small differences in the effectiveness of teachers of high- and low-income students. Patterns of teacher attrition do not contribute to inequitable access to effective teachers.