A decade ago, the nation’s 50 governors gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, to figure out some way—any way—to improve education. Though the guest list for this unusual summit featured a selection of business executives, dignitaries, and policy wonks, there were no teachers. Not a single one.
Today, there’s a lot of irony in that. In states facing shortages of classroom help, governors are courting teachers with the sort of financial enticements and sweet talk they usually lavish on relocating Fortune 500 companies. Tax credits, scholarships, loan forgiveness, bonuses—they’re all being dangled as bait for anyone certified to teach. What’s more, governors have turned to the nitty-gritty issues of teacher quality: Who should teach? How do we help them? And how do we keep them?
With the governors talking a good game now, state legislatures this spring are likely to be zeroing in on teacher issues. And not a moment too soon. Recently, our sister publication, Education Week, issued a damning report on state teacher policies. The fourth in the newspaper’s Quality Counts series on education reform, it is the most exhaustive survey to date of what states are doing to put good teachers in front of their schoolchildren. According to Education Week, most states do not aggressively recruit people to be teachers. Nor do they adequately support beginning teachers. Moreover, many states play an elaborate shell game with credentialing and licensing policies, setting high standards for would-be teachers but then opening monster-size loopholes for those who don’t make the grade. The result: Millions of students sit down every day before teachers who do not meet minimum requirements set by their states.
Education Week‘s full report, Quality Counts, is 166 pages of state-by-state analyses as well as stories examining key trends and programs. It evaluates each state’s effort in four broad policy areas: 1) Does the state set rigorous standards to determine who gets to teach and then test candidates to see if they measure up? 2) Does it limit and discourage so-called “out of field” instruction, where teachers run classes in subjects outside their expertise? 3) Does it offer substantial support for beginning teachers as well as veterans? 4) Are its teacher-education programs sound?
Here, we spotlight the top of the class, the five states that Education Week grades highest in improving teacher quality. These are by no means straight-A do-gooders; no state scores higher than a B. However, these are the states moving the fastest and doing the most.
| Connecticut |
| GRADE: 86, or B |
VITAL STATS: 540,000 K-12 students. 40,754 teachers. Average public school teacher salary (1998, adjusted for cost of living): $43,541.
BACKGROUND: The state is the nation’s pacesetter on teacher issues. After the federal A Nation at Risk report condemned public education in 1983, Connecticut leaders promised to ensure classrooms were led by good teachers. No other state has worked so hard-or so smartly.
HIGH MARKS FOR: Almost everything. Connecticut sets tough standards for teachers but also gives them unusual support. Prospective teachers must have a college major in an academic discipline-not education-and must pass a series of subject-area tests before being licensed. The state’s two-year program for new teachers is considered a model: It requires districts to partner new teachers with mentors who can help novices over rough spots.
WHERE IT SHINES: Connecticut is the only state that evaluates the performance of new teachers based on their mastery and teaching of an academic subject, not “generic” teaching skills. It’s also the only state to base that evaluation on a portfolio of the teacher’s work.
WHAT NEEDS WORK: Teacher education. Education Week gives the state a D here, noting that a quarter of its education graduates come from schools that are not accredited by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education. It also faults Connecticut for failing to require would-be teachers to get experience in the schools in addition to student teaching.
MONEY MATTERS: Teacher salaries doubled between 1985 and 1995-roughly twice the rate of increase for the nation as a whole.
APPLAUSE: “The policies they put into place in Connecticut in the 1980s amount to one of the most comprehensive and thoughtful efforts for improving teaching that has been done anywhere,” says Linda Darling-Hammond, chair of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future.
| South Carolina |
| GRADE: 85, or B |
VITAL STATS: 644,000 K-12 students. 42,120 teachers. Average salary (1998, adjusted for cost of living): $37,013.
BACKGROUND: The state has tackled teacher-quality issues over the past decade as part of standards-based reform. Many observers credit a recent push for new policies to Governor Jim Hodges and state Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum, Democrats elected to office in 1998 after campaigning on education platforms. Last year, K-12 schools were a hot topic in the legislature, which bumped up the minimum teacher salary by 4.75 percent, boosted pay for teachers who get national certification, and created scholarships for prospective teachers.
HIGH MARKS FOR: New, more rigorous standards for teachers that are designed to guide teacher-preparation programs as well as evaluation of novices. In the late 1990s, the state threw out a 20-year-old checklist of requirements that teachers had to meet and instead devised a set of expectations that describe the skills and knowledge that teachers should possess. South Carolina is also one of the few states where new teachers are assigned mentors and support teams.
WHERE IT SHINES: South Carolina encourages teenagers to consider teaching as a career through its Teacher Cadet program, a high school honors course offered in about 75 percent of the state’s schools.
WHAT NEEDS WORK: The state’s efforts to limit out-of-field teaching. Initial secondary licenses are given to middle school teachers even if they only have a minor in the subject they teach.
MONEY MATTERS: The state last year gave financial assistance to 1,191 would-be teachers-more than all but six other states in the country.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Teachers are finally being “given credit for being professionals,” says Jackie Hicks, president of the state’s National Education Association affiliate.
| Oklahoma |
| GRADE: 84, or B |
VITAL STATS: 627,000 K-12 students. 40,943 teachers. Average salary (1998, adjusted for cost of living): $35,159.
BACKGROUND: A teacher shortage over the past four years has been driving the state’s recent focus on teacher issues. Oklahoma is particularly desperate for teachers in math, science, and foreign languages. Neighboring Texas is said to be luring away the state’s homegrown teachers with bigger salaries.
HIGH MARKS FOR: Oklahoma’s extensive support for new and veteran teachers. Since 1982, nearly 30,000 first-year teachers have participated in the state’s Residency Program, in which novices are mentored by a fellow teacher, an administrator, and a teacher education professor. This support team recommends to the state whether the teacher should be certified. Oklahoma has also invested heavily in professional development for veteran teachers; in the past decade, state spending on teacher training has jumped from $1.88 per student to $9.12.
WHERE IT SHINES: Teacher education. All its education schools are accredited by NCATE, and it has some of the most extensive on-the-job training for would-be teachers, with clinical experience required as well as a minimum of 12 hours of student teaching.
WHAT NEEDS WORK: Oklahoma permits middle school teachers to get a secondary license with only 12 hours of coursework in the subject they teach. Officials are moving to toughen up this requirement.
MONEY MATTERS: Oklahoma gives away only $100,000 in scholarships or other financial incentives to would-be teachers. “We’ve done nothing in the way of recruitment,” admits state Superintendent Sandy Garrett.
COMMON CENTS: “If we can get [teachers’] salaries and bonuses where they should be, we think we can get people who have been pulled off by business and industry back into teaching,” says Floyd Coppedge, the state’s secretary of education.
| North Carolina |
| GRADE: 83, or B |
VITAL STATS: 1.2 million K-12 students. 77,486 teachers. Average salary (1998, adjusted for cost of living): $31,307.
BACKGROUND: North Carolina has long been seen as a leader on teacher issues, thanks in part to its activist governor, Democrat Jim Hunt. Now in his fourth term, Hunt has headed several national groups looking at teaching. At home, he’s stumped for salary increases, more professional development, and broad school reform.
HIGH MARKS FOR: Encouraging teachers to get national certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. (The push is not surprising considering Hunt is founding chairman of the board.) Nearly one-third of the 1,833 teachers to earn NBPTS’ seal of approval in 1998 were from North Carolina. Nationally certified teachers in the state get a 12 percent raise.
WHERE IT SHINES: North Carolina is one of the few states that tries to attract the best and brightest students into teaching. Its Teaching Fellows program provides up to $6,500 a year in scholarships to 400 outstanding high school seniors who agree to teach in the state’s public schools. Fellows also participate in year-round enrichment activities and seminars as prep work for the classroom.
WHAT NEEDS WORK: Screening of teacher candidates. The state is tightening its requirements in many areas, and veteran teachers face a tougher recertification process that includes at least three credits in integrating technology in the classroom.
MONEY MATTERS: North Carolina this year will offer $11.6 million in financial incentives to prospective teachers, more than any other state save California.
RAH-RAH: “By the year 2010, North Carolina will build the best system of public schools of any state in America,” Hunt declared in a speech last year. “By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, we will be first in education.”
| Kentucky |
| GRADE: 81, or B- |
VITAL STATS: 646,000 K-12 students. 40,381 teachers. Average salary (1998, adjusted for cost of living): $38,842.
BACKGROUND: The state that most aggressively pursued school reform in the 1990s is tackling teacher quality with the same vigor. In the past year, it’s studied how to improve the knowledge of both new and practicing teachers, recruit more qualified people into the profession, and keep good teachers in the classroom. Watch for action in the state legislature this year.
HIGH MARKS FOR: Professional support and training. Kentucky is one of the few states that pays for a program to help beginning teachers. The state also pays for professional development to help teachers get up to speed on academic standards put in place as part of the standards-based reforms that the state pioneered in the ‘90s.
WHERE IT SHINES: Kentucky is one of only four states that’s beefed up the traditional teacher evaluation process by requiring a team to judge a new teacher’s work, not just a principal. Evaluations are done by the teacher’s principal, mentor, and an education school professor.
WHAT NEEDS WORK: Education Week gives the state an F for its efforts to prevent teachers from teaching subjects outside their field. The state does not require middle or high school teachers to have either a college major or minor in the subject they teach. The result: Only 53 percent of secondary teachers hold a degree in the subject they teach, the fifth-lowest percentage in the country.
MONEY MATTERS: Along with North Carolina, Kentucky guarantees veteran teachers the biggest stipend-$1,000 a year-to mentor younger peers.
MORE TO COME: Before the Kentucky legislature convened in January, Governor Paul Patton proclaimed, “The four most important issues we’ll talk about this session are education, education, education, and education.”
| The Rest |
Grade C+: Louisiana (79), West Virginia (79), Virginia (78), Indiana (77), New York (77).
Grade C: Georgia (74), Maryland (74), Massachusetts (74), Missouri (74), Mississippi (74), Pennsylvania (74), Ohio (73), Rhode Island (73), Tennessee (73).
Grade C-: California (72), Minnesota (72), Nevada (72), Nebraska (71), Delaware (70), Michigan (70).
Grade D+: Alabama (69), Illinois (69), Colorado (68), New Jersey (68), Montana (67), Wisconsin (67).
Grade D: Arkansas (66), Florida (66), Hawaii (66), Maine (66), New Hampshire (66), Iowa (65), Oregon (65), North Dakota (65), New Mexico (64), Texas (64), Kansas (63), Vermont (63).
Grade D-: Arizona (62), Utah (62), Washington (61).
Grade F: Alaska (59), South Dakota (58), Wyoming (58), Idaho (56).
The Quality Counts project director is Craig D. Jerald. Others contributing to this article were Jeff Archer, Julie Blair, Ulrich Boser, Michelle Galley, Drew Lindsay, Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, Lynn Olson, Greg Orlofsky, and Christy Lynn Wilson.