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Thursday, November 15, 2012
A well-trained, high quality teacher is the most important school-related factor in a child's success. Yet in many developing countries, the poor and marginalized children who most need the best teachers are often the last to get them.
It's a problem with sweeping social and economic consequences, and one that Tom Luschei, associate professor in Claremont Graduate University (CGU's) School of Educational Studies, has set out to explore.
With funding from UNICEF, Luschei has partnered with researchers from Michigan State University to launch a broad study on how teachers are allocated in parts of the developing world. The team, which includes a handful of graduate students from both universities, hopes to identify why children who struggle against poverty, geography, and social origin don't consistently receive quality teachers, and what policy changes can be implemented to address the inequity.
"As important as teachers are for average children, they're that much more important for poor and disadvantaged kids who don't have resources in the home," Luschei said. "Effective teachers are a major factor in helping these children succeed in life. If they receive quality education they will have a better chance to grow up and get jobs, support their families, and participate in civic activity and the democratic process."
The team has already started its research by reviewing existing data on how teachers are allocated in 24 countries across three regions. Luschei and colleague Amita Chudgar from Michigan State are identifying factors such as how teacher experience, age, and training relate to the ways teachers are assigned across rural and urban areas, poor and wealthy regions, and other social and economic boundaries.
In some regions, for example, Luschei has found that new teachers are assigned to work in poor rural areas, where it's most difficult to recruit top teachers. As the young teachers gain experience and skill they transfer to more desirable upscale urban schools.
A more equitable system would work in just the opposite way, Luschei said, with salary incentives offered to attract top teachers to the least desirable locations.
"We see these types of systematic patterns emerge over and over," Luschei said. "There is little or no attempt to ensure a uniform distribution of qualified teachers."
Following their initial study, the researchers will travel to India, Mexico and Tanzania to observe practices and interview policy makers, teachers, and other stakeholders.
They'll compile what they learn into a series of reports and recommendations that they intend to present to UNICEF in August of 2013. The findings will also be shared with policymakers in the countries that were studied.
"Our goal is to get this information into the hands of people who actually can do something with it and implement some of the best practices we've identified," Luschei said.
CGU PhD students Loris Fagioli, Rebecca Devereaux, and Giselle Navarro are assisting in the project.
Luschei has previously studied the distribution of teachers in countries such as Mexico and Uruguay, but never on this scale.
His research interests include international and comparative education, the economics of education, teacher labor markets and teacher quality, teacher-related policies in Latin America and Southeast Asia, and the cross-national study of immigrant student achievement. He has conducted research on educational issues in Brazil, Cambodia, Chile, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Uruguay.
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