The Distribution of Teaching and Learning Resources in California's Middle and High Schools

Primary Researchers: Miguel Socias, Jay Chambers, Phil Esra, Larisa Shambaugh

Publication Date: September 2007


This study provides a detailed and up-to-date snapshot of the distribution of some of the most critical resources in California's middle and high schools — classroom teachers, class sizes, and college-going courses.

To download a 2-page summary click here.


The study, conducted by the American Institutes for Research with REL West at WestEd, examines how these resources are distributed across schools grouped into quartiles by the percentage of low-income students, English learners, Hispanic students, and African American students; by the population density of the areas in which schools are located; and by the type of school (traditional public or charter). Overall, the most disadvantaged populations of students are likely to have the least access to the resources necessary for learning.

Research Questions

This study addressed the following key research questions:

  • What is the distribution of key education resources among California's middle and high schools? The teaching and learning resources examined are:
    • classroom teachers,
    • class sizes, and
    • college-going courses.
  • What is the relationship between the distribution of the above resources and school characteristics such as:
    • the percentage of students at the school who are
      • eligible for free or reduced-price lunch?
      • English learners?
      • Hispanic?
      • African American?
    • the population density of the school's surrounding area?
    • whether the school is a charter or traditional public school?

Methodology

Researchers analyzed the distribution of the following education resources in California:

  • Out-of-field teaching
  • Teacher education
  • Teacher experience
  • Class size
  • Courses satisfying the University of California and California State University requirements

Researchers examined the distribution of these resources across middle and high schools as grouped into quartiles by the percentage of low-income students, English learners, Hispanic students, and African American students.

The study also reports on the relationship between the availability of these resources and both the population density of the areas in which schools are located (urban, suburban, or rural) and the type of school (traditional public or charter).

Key Findings

This study found that access to important educational resources in California's middle and high schools is not equal among schools that serve different student populations. Overall, the most disadvantaged populations of middle and high school students are likely to have the least access to the resources necessary for learning.

Students in schools with the highest concentrations of low-income students or English learners are more likely to have a less experienced teacher or a teacher not authorized to teach that subject, and they are less likely to be enrolled in courses required for admission to the University of California or California State University systems.

Despite the general pattern of unequal distribution of certain teaching resources, though, only limited differences in distribution are associated with student race/ethnicity. In contrast to prior research that indicated much more unequal patterns for schools with high concentrations of minorities, this suggests that some progress may have been made on one front.

In addition, aside from the expected trend of smaller classes in smaller rural schools, class sizes do not seem to vary greatly by type of student population.

What the Findings Mean for Future Research

Given these patterns of unequal distribution of access to teaching and learning resources, future research should investigate the roots of these patterns to understand how best to ameliorate them. Researchers should also delve more deeply into areas that show more equal distribution of resources, to learn from successes as well as failures.

State policymakers need to better understand how to create incentives for schools and districts to ensure that schools with the neediest students have the same access to teaching and learning resources as other schools.

  • Published: September 2007
  • Research Type: Issues & Answers
  • Methodologies: Descriptive
  • Contact info:
    Catherine Walcott 415.615.3184


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