Who Should Teach? The States Decide

States are not doing enough to attract, screen, and retain competent teachers.

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Good teaching matters. Savvy parents have long known this, and research is confirming it. With U.S. schools needing to hire about 2 million teachers in the next decade, the push is on to make sure that the people who take those jobs are qualified to teach to the higher academic standards now expected of students.

Quality Counts 2000, the fourth annual 50-state report by Education Week, looks at one of the most critical questions in education: What are states doing to attract, screen, and keep good teachers? The answer, based on the most exhaustive survey of state teacher policies to date: Not enough.

Despite universal agreement that teachers should have basic literacy skills and know the subjects they teach, Quality Counts found states playing an elaborate shell game. While they set standards for who can enter the profession on the front end, most keep the door cracked open on the back end. As a result, millions of students sit down every day before instructors who do not meet the minimum requirements their states say they should have to teach in a public school. And far too many teachers who have acquired basic credentials are not receiving the training, support, and encouragement they need to remain--and grow--their profession. For example:

  • Thirty-nine states require prospective educators to pass a basic-skills test. But 36 of those states have loopholes that allow at least some people to teach who have failed such exams.
  • Twenty-nine states require high school teachers to pass tests in the subjects they plan to teach, and 39 require them to have a major, a minor, or an equivalent number of course credits in their subjects. Yet all of those states, except New Jersey, can waive those requirements, either by granting licenses to individuals who have not met them or by permitting districts to hire such people.
  • The situation is even worse for middle school teachers. Fewer than half the states expect middle school teachers to earn secondary licenses in the subjects they plan to teach. The rest allow them to use "generic" elementary school certificates. Only nine states require all middle school teachers to pass tests in their subjects.
  • Moreover, even licensed teachers are often assigned classes for which they have not been trained, a practice known as "out of field" teaching. Eleven states do not require special permission for teachers to spend part of the day teaching outside their areas of expertise. Only 22 states have the authority to penalize schools or districts for having out-of-field teachers, such as by revoking accreditation or cutting state aid. Only one state requires notification of parents when their children are taught by out-of-field teachers. And no state has published information about out-of-field teaching on school report cards for the public.

Quality Counts 2000 also looked at the incentives states offer to attract bright college graduates into teaching. It found that most such incentives are weak and rarely focus on the schools or subjects where teachers are needed most.

  • Only Massachusetts offers “signing bonuses” to lure talented people into teaching. Maryland will begin doing so next school year.
  • Twenty-seven states have scholarship or loan-forgiveness programs for prospective educators. But only 18 target such programs to specific shortage fields, such as math and science. Only 10 aim those programs at candidates who are willing to work in urban or rural schools, schools in impoverished neighborhoods, or low-performing schools.
  • Forty states have programs that provide an accelerated pathway into teaching, particularly for career- switchers and liberal arts graduates. But with the exception of California, New Jersey, and Texas, such alternative routes serve few comers.
  • Twenty-seven states have Web sites that list teacher vacancies in their states, but most do not require all districts to participate. Only nine permit teachers to submit resumes, job applications, or related personnel information electronically.

Beyond such shortcomings in the "pipeline" for beginning teachers, states are not doing nearly enough to help teachers reach their full potential as educators and to keep them from quitting the profession.

A special study conducted for Quality Counts, based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, found a growing salary gap between public and private school teachers and other college graduates.

  • Teachers age 22 to 28 earned an average $7,894 less per year than other college-educated adults of the same age in 1998. The gap is three times greater for teachers 44 to 50, who earned $23,655 less than their counterparts in other occupations.
  • The gap is worst among those with master's degrees ages 44 to 50. Teachers in that category earned $43,313 in 1998, compared with $75,824 for nonteachers--a difference of $32,511.
  • From 1994 to 1998, the average salary for master's-degree holders outside teaching increased 32 percent, or $17,505, after adjusting for inflation; the average salary for teachers with master's degrees increased less than $200.
  • Moreover, salaries alone won't keep teachers in the classroom, and studies show that far too many leave the profession within the first five years. Many states have induction programs that give new teachers support and advice from more experienced colleagues. But while 28 states have laws that require or encourage districts to offer such programs, only 19 states require districts to provide that help to all beginning teachers; of those states, only 10 foot some or all of the bill.
  • Though 27 states require principals or other individuals to observe and evaluate beginning teachers, only four states require that the evaluations be conducted by a team that includes someone outside the school. And only Connecticut and New York require novice teachers to pass a state-administered performance assessment.

Together, these piecemeal policies and lackluster incentives steer people away from teaching. The result is a teacher pipeline that more closely resembles a leaky faucet.

For Quality Counts 2000, Education Week conducted a special analysis of the first federal study to follow college graduates into the workplace.

Based on that analysis:

  • Nearly half (49 percent) of the 1992-93 college graduates who prepared to teach while in school had never worked in a K-12 public school four years later.
  • At every step of the way, the less academically able chose teaching, as measured by college-entrance exams. Both those who prepared to teach as undergraduates and those who went on to do so were less likely to have scored in the top 25 percent on such tests than their peers who chose other professions.
  • Of the college graduates who began teaching by 1993-94, nearly one in five had left within three years.
  • The brightest novice teachers, as measured by their college-entrance exams, were the most likely to leave.
  • Poor working conditions contribute to the high turnover. Teachers who did not participate in an induction program, who were dissatisfied with student discipline, or who were unhappy with the school environment were much more likely to leave than their peers.

This year's edition of Quality Counts also continues to chart the progress--or lack of progress--toward education improvement in the 50 states. In addition to the analysis of teaching policies, here is what Education Week's reporting found:

Achievement--Seven states posted significant gains from 1992 to 1998 in the percentage of 4th graders reading at the "proficient" level or above on the National Assessment of Educational Progress: Colorado, Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, and Mississippi.

Standards, Assessments, and Accountability--Every state but Iowa has adopted academic standards in at least some subjects, and 44 have standards in all four core areas.

The number of states that administer tests matched to their standards in at least one subject climbed from 35 in 1997-98 to 41 this school year. The number of states that test whether students are meeting standards in all four of the core academic subjects rose from 17 to 21. Less movement occurred on the accountability front. For example, while California added monetary rewards for successful schools, Oregon and South Carolina killed funding for such programs.

School Climate--Since last year, three more states have passed laws permitting charter schools. And 29 states now allow parents to shop among public schools within a district or across the state. But few states have made noticeable gains in increasing parent or student involvement.

Resources--Forty-three states increased their per-pupil spending from 1997 to 1998. In 38 of those states. the increase was large enough to at least keep pace with inflation. Twenty-two states increased per-pupil spending by more than 5 percent, and eight had gains of more than 10 percent.

Quality Counts 2000 is divided into two sections. "Who Should Teach?" focuses on our theme for this year. "The State of the States" looks at student performance and more than 75 indicators of the health of each state's public education system. State-by-state updates relate state policy changes in education over the past year.

Vol. 19, Issue 18, Page 8-9

Published in Print: January 13, 2000, as Who Should Teach? The States Decide
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