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The District of Columbia is in the midst of a bold effort to reform the school system. We have seen gains in reading and writing proficiency among students. But while scores are up, critics are asking, have reforms have actually improved District schools?

Even though we pay lip service to the urgent need to close the achievement gap, we tolerate huge disparities in access to strong teachers on every meaningful measure — with devastating results. Over the course of their schooling, low-income and minority students are much more likely to be assigned to inexperienced, out-of-field, academically weaker and less effective teachers than other students. Core academic classes in high-poverty secondary schools are twice as likely as those in low-poverty schools to be taught by a teacher with neither a major nor certification in their assigned subject. The percentage of first-year teachers at high-minority schools is nearly twice as high as the percentage of such teachers at low-minority schools.

We spend a lot of money on our schools. Too little goes to teachers, and we have not gotten good results. This has to change. Not by throwing more money at the problem and not by putting legislative handcuffs on the decision makers, but by looking to worldwide best practices and current research to identify and foster solutions that work.

City leaders who invest resources and energy wisely do not have to choose between excellence and equity. We can improve overall teacher quality and remedy the shameful inequities in access to the single most valuable resource in education — effective teachers.

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