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Equitable Access to (or Distribution of) Teachers
February 2021


"What are research-based strategies that have proven to be effective to increase equitable access to (or distribution of) qualified teachers?"


Ask A REL Response

Thank you for your request to our Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Reference Desk. Ask A REL is a collaborative reference desk service provided by the 10 RELs that, by design, functions much in the same way as a technical reference library. Ask A REL provides references, referrals, and brief responses in the form of citations in response to questions about available education research.

Following an established REL Northwest research protocol, we conducted a search for evidence- based research. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, Google Scholar, and general Internet search engines. For more details, please see the methods section at the end of this document.

The research team has not evaluated the quality of the references and resources provided in this response; we offer them only for your reference. The search included the most commonly used research databases and search engines to produce the references presented here. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The research references are not necessarily comprehensive and other relevant research references may exist. In addition to evidence-based, peer-reviewed research references, we have also included other resources that you may find useful. We provide only publicly available resources, unless there is a lack of such resources or an article is considered seminal in the topic area.

Adamson, F., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2012). Funding disparities and the inequitable distribution of teachers: Evaluating sources and solutions. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 20(37), 1–46. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"The inequitable distribution of well-qualified teachers to students in the United States is a longstanding issue. Despite federal mandates under the No Child Left Behind Act and the use of a range of incentives to attract teachers to high-need schools, the problem remains acute in many states. This study examines how and why teacher quality is inequitably distributed, by reviewing research and examining data on school funding, salaries, and teacher qualifications from California and New York—two large states that face similar demographic diversity and educational challenges. Using wage adjustments to control for cost of living differentials, we find that both overall school funding and teacher salary levels are highly inequitable both across and within states—generally exhibiting a ratio of 3 to 1 between high- and low-spending jurisdictions. Furthermore, low-salary districts serve students with higher needs, offer poorer working conditions, and hire teachers with significantly lower qualifications, who typically exhibit higher turnover. We find that districts serving the highest proportions of minority and low-income students have about twice as many uncredentialed and inexperienced teachers as do those serving the fewest. In an elasticity analysis, we find that increases in teacher salaries are associated with noticeable decreases in the proportions of teachers who are newly hired, uncredentialed, or less well educated. These teacher qualifications, in turn, are associated with student achievement, holding student characteristics constant. We review research on strategies that have been largely unsuccessful at addressing this problem, such as "combat pay" intended to recruit teachers to high need schools, suggesting that small bonuses might be productive if added to an equitable salary structure where working conditions are comparable, but may be inadequate to compensate for large differentials in salaries and working conditions. We review studies illustrating successful policy strategies in states that have taken a more systemic approach to equalizing salaries, raising teaching standards, and providing supports for teacher learning and school development. We recommend federal initiatives that could provide stronger supports and incentives for equalizing students' access to well-qualified and effective teachers, including equalizing allocations of ESEA resources across states, enforcing existing ESEA comparability provisions for ensuring equitable funding and equally qualified teachers to schools serving different populations of students, evaluating progress on resource equity in state plans and evaluations under the law, and requiring states to meet standards of resource equity–including the availability of well-qualified teachers–for schools identified as in need of improvement."

Baker, B. D., & Weber, M. (2016). State school finance inequities and the limits of pursuing teacher equity through departmental regulation. Education Policy Analysis Archives 24(47), 1-36.

From the Abstract:
"New federal regulations (State Plans to Ensure Equitable Access to Excellent Educators) place increased pressure on states and local public school districts to improve their measurement and reporting of gaps in teacher qualifications across schools and the children they serve. Yet a sole focus on resource disparities between schools within a state ignores an important driver of those disparities: district-level spending variations, particularly when accounting for differences in student populations. The analyses herein evaluate connections between district and school level spending measures and teacher equity measures (such as salary competitiveness and staff: student ratios), and specifically whether inequality in "access to excellent educators" at the school level is greater in states where funding inequalities between school districts are greater. We find that district spending variation explains an important, policy relevant share of school staffing expenditures in 13 states. In many states, including Illinois and New York, a nearly 1:1 relationship exists between district spending variation and school site spending variation. In California, Illinois, Louisiana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, district spending is positively associated with competitive salary differentials, average teacher salaries, and numbers of certificated staff per 100 pupils. In each of these states, district poverty rates are negatively associated with competitive salary differentials, average teacher salaries and numbers of certified staff per 100 pupils. As such, regulatory intervention without more substantive changes to state school finance systems, addressing district-level inequities, will likely achieve little. Current federal policy pressures state education agencies to report and attempt to regulate inequities that arise because of school finance systems over which those agencies have no direct influence. Our analysis suggests that the administration would be more likely to meet its goals if it attempted to more directly address state school finance system disparities, placing pressure on state legislatures to equitably and adequately fund schools, and following through with the requirement that state-to-district equity provisions translate into district-to-school equity."

Bastian, K. C., Henry, G. T., & Thompson, C. L. (2013). Incorporating access to more effective teachers into assessments of educational resource equity. Education Finance and Policy, 8(4), 560-580.

From the Abstract:
"To address gaps in achievement between more- and less-affluent students, states and districts need to ensure that high-poverty students and schools have equitable access to educational resources. Traditionally, assessments of resource equity have focused on per-pupil expenditures and more proximal inputs, such as teacher credentials and class size, despite the inconsistent and/or weak relationships between these measures and student performance. Given the sizable and direct effects of teachers on student achievement, we argue that (1) teachers' value-added scores should be incorporated into assessments of resource equity and (2) providing schools with greater flexibility for setting salaries or using strategic staffing initiatives may be necessary to achieve an equitable distribution of effective teachers. To illustrate these assertions we incorporate teacher value added into a case study of resource allocation in the public high schools of Wayne County, North Carolina, which have been the target of a complaint by the North Carolina National Association for the Advancement of Colored People."

Behrstock, E. & Clifford, M. (2010). Ensuring the equitable distribution of teachers: Strategies for school, district, and state leaders. Washington, D.C.: National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality.

From the Abstract:
"National and state-level policies recognize the critical role that talented teachers play in ensuring that all students learn and in building capacity for instructional excellence in schools. Teachers influence student learning more than any other factor in the school, and the dividends of effective teaching are cumulative (see "Defining the Terms"). A growing body of research suggests, however, that the distribution of high-quality teachers is not equitable within states, districts, or schools. Although broader social factors also contribute to student performance, public education leaders at all levels of the education system have the opportunity and obligation to improve the distribution of teachers so that minority children and those from families of low socioeconomic status are not systematically denied access to effective teachers and high-quality learning. This TQ Research & Policy Brief discusses how school and district administrators, with the support of state and federal leaders, can influence the equitable distribution of teachers through hiring, placement, working conditions, and compensation policies and practices. The brief contains the following information: (1) An explanation of the problem of inequitable teacher distribution; (2) An overview of school policies and practices that appear to contribute to equitable teacher distribution; (3) Strategies for school leaders to enhance teacher recruitment, hiring, and placement practices as well as improve working conditions; (4) Strategies for district leaders to enhance teacher recruitment, hiring, and placement practices as well as improve teacher compensation policies; (5) Strategies for state and federal leaders to facilitate district policymaking and build district capacity to support the equitable distribution of teachers; and (6) Resources to support leaders in promoting the equitable distribution of teachers."

Berry, B., & Eckert, J. (2012). Creating teacher incentives for school excellence and equity. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Ensuring that all students in America’s public schools are taught by good teachers is an educational and moral imperative. Teacher incentive proposals are rarely grounded on what high-quality research indicates are the kinds of teacher incentives that lead to school excellence and equity. Few of the current approaches to creating teacher incentives take into account how specific conditions influence whether or not effective teachers will work in high-need schools and will be able to teach effectively in them. Large-scale studies and teacher testimonies suggest that working conditions are far more important than bonuses in persuading teachers to stay or leave their classrooms. National teacher turnover survey data show that teachers who leave because of job dissatisfaction do so for a variety of reasons that can be addressed: low salaries, poor support from school administrators, a lack of student motivation, a lack of teacher influence over decision-making, and student discipline problems. However, current policies, including the one framed by the federally sponsored Teacher Incentive Fund, rarely recognize these realities. We must reward expertise in ways that move beyond recruitment bonuses or pay for improved student test scores. To develop incentive policies that spread teaching expertise and allow for effective teaching will require the careful development of interlocking policies across federal, state, and local agencies. To that end, it is recommended that education policymakers do the following, which are fleshed out in the report: (1) Use the Teacher Incentive Fund to Spread Teaching Expertise for High-Needs Schools; (2) Expand Incentives in Creating Strategic Compensation; (3) Create the Working Conditions that Allow Teachers to Teach Effectively; and (4) Elevate Best Practices and Policies that Spur School Excellence and Equity."

Espinoza, D., Saunders, R., Kini, T., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2018). Taking the long view: State efforts to solve teacher shortages by strengthening the profession. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.

From the Abstract:
"Across the country, districts and schools are struggling to meet the growing demand for qualified teachers. Indeed, there are some subjects--such as mathematics, science, and special education--in which nearly every state is experiencing a teacher shortage. As a result, states often turn to underqualified teachers to fill the vacuum, a problematic and often temporary solution because these teachers are less effective on average and more likely to leave the field, especially in high need schools in which they are disproportionately placed. Such attrition is costly to states and further undermines student achievement and school improvement efforts. Fortunately, research offers insights on how to attract, develop, and retain a strong and stable teacher workforce. This report builds on that research by focusing on six evidence-based policies that states are pursuing to address their teacher shortages while also strengthening their educator workforce. This report examines all submitted and approved Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) state plans, as well as targeted reviews of recent, relevant state legislation; publicly available program documents; and administrative data. In addition, this report includes a detailed exploration of the comprehensive approach taken by Washington state that leverages a number of evidence-based policies in tandem to address teacher shortages while also improving its educator workforce."

Center on Great Teachers and Leaders. (2019). Evidence-based practices to support equity: A snapshot on mentoring and induction. A GTL Center snapshot. Washington, DC: Center on Great Teachers and Leaders at American Institutes for Research.

From the Abstract:
"State and district leaders can use the GTL Center's Snapshot on Mentoring and Induction to make informed policy decisions that take into account the evidence base for mentoring and induction strategies to improve supports for and equitable access to great teachers and leaders. The snapshot describes mentoring and induction strategies, how states and districts have implemented these strategies, and the empirical studies and evidence demonstrating the strategy's effect on educator and student outcomes."

Gagnon, D. J., & Mattingly, M. J. (2015). State policy responses to ensuring excellent educators in rural schools. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 30(13), 1-14. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"The Excellent Educators for All initiative is the most recent federal policy effort to address unequal access to teacher quality in the United States. States were required to submit equity plans to the U.S. Department of Education that detailed how to ensure that poor and minority children do not receive instruction from less qualified teachers. States could extend their plans to include rural students, although this was not a statutory requirement. Past federal reform efforts around raising teacher quality have been widely criticized as being overly prescriptive, and ultimately failing to account for the unique contexts of rural schools. We examine the extent to which rural needs are addressed in all available state equity plans. We find that roughly half of U.S. states examine equity gaps along the urban-rural continuum, and roughly half propose rural-specific policy solutions to improve rural school staffing, although less than a third do both. States across the country employ a range of strategies in roughly equal measure, including grow your own programs, financial incentives, communities of practice, and capacity building. In addition to detailing findings and providing nuanced examples, this article also discusses implications for students and state policy."


Keywords and Search Strings: The following keywords, subject headings, and search strings were used to search reference databases and other sources: Teacher, Equity OR equitable, Distribution, Access, Policy(ies), Strategy(ies)

Databases and Resources: We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and EBSCO databases (Academic Search Premier, Education Research Complete, and Professional Development Collection).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of publications: This search and review included references and resources published in the last 10 years.

Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority was given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, as well as academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, and Google Scholar.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references:

  • Study types: randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, and policy briefs, generally in this order
  • Target population and samples: representativeness of the target population, sample size, and whether participants volunteered or were randomly selected
  • Study duration
  • Limitations and generalizability of the findings and conclusions

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by stakeholders in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest. It was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0009 by REL Northwest, administered by Education Northwest. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.