Background: Although most research on teacher sorting has taken place in the United States, where teacher distribution favors more advantaged children, there is some evidence that the distribution of teachers across schools is much more equitable in South Korea. This is the first study to directly compare teacher distribution across schools and classrooms in the two countries.
Research Questions: Our research questions are: (1) Are teachers in lower secondary schools distributed evenly across schools in South Korea and the United States? (2) Are teachers in lower secondary schools distributed evenly across classrooms in South Korea and the United States? (3) How does assignment of teachers to classrooms within schools differ in South Korea and the United States?
Research Design: We use data from the 2013 Teaching and Learning International Survey to examine the distribution of teachers across regions, schools, and classrooms in the United States and South Korea. To answer our research questions we employ a range of quantitative techniques, ranging from simple descriptive statistics and Gini indices of teacher variables, to multinomial and ordered logistic regressions of school and classroom conditions on key teacher quality variables.
Results: We find that across schools, inequitable teacher sorting patterns are more pronounced in the United States. In both countries teacher sorting is more pronounced across classrooms than across schools; specifically, teachers with more total experience are less likely to teach in classrooms with higher concentrations of economically disadvantaged students and students with behavioral problems. Further, U.S. teachers with more years of experience in their current schools are less likely to receive assignments in classrooms with more language minority students, economically disadvantaged students, and students with special needs.
Conclusions: We conclude that South Korea can provide lessons to the United States to help reduce inequities in disadvantaged children’s access to qualified teachers across schools through policies like centralized assignment of teachers, incentives to teach in difficult-to-staff schools, and mandatory rotation of teachers across schools. In terms of cross-classroom teacher sorting, our results signal a warning for policy makers in both countries. We argue that the most effective way to reduce within-school teacher sorting is to better integrate language-minority, low-income, and special-needs students into classrooms so that teaching conditions do not differ significantly across classrooms, and teachers have fewer options to sort across.