LOS ANGELES â€” The fifth-graders at Broadous Elementary School come from the same world â€” the poorest corner of the San Fernando Valley, a Pacoima neighborhood framed by two freeways where some have lost friends to the stray bullets of rival gangs.
Many are the sons and daughters of Latino immigrants who never finished high school, hard-working parents who keep a respectful distance and trust educators to do whatâ€™s best.
The students study the same lessons. They are often on the same chapter of the same book.
Yet year after year, one fifth-grade class learns far more than the other down the hall. The difference has almost nothing to do with the size of the class, the students or their parents.
Itâ€™s their teachers.
With Miguel Aguilar, students consistently have made striking gains on state standardized tests, many of them vaulting from the bottom third of students in Los Angeles schools to well above average, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis. John Smithâ€™s pupils next door have started out slightly ahead of Aguilarâ€™s but by the end of the year have been far behind.
In Los Angeles and across the country, education officials have long known of the often huge disparities among teachers. Theyâ€™ve seen the indelible effects, for good and ill, on children. But rather than analyze and address these disparities, they have opted mostly to ignore them.
Most districts act as though one teacher is about as good as another. As a result, the most effective teachers often go unrecognized, the keys to their success rarely studied. Ineffective teachers often face no consequences and get no extra help.
Which teacher a child gets is usually an accident of fate, in which the progress of some students is hindered while others just steps away thrive.