Teacher Quality Might Be More Elusive Than Cited

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A study suggests that many states' own perspectives on how close they are to meeting the federal requirement for a "highly qualified" teacher in every classroom is a little too rosy, and that significant policy changes may be required to meet the goal.

The study from the Council of Chief State School Officers, in Washington, looks at data from a federal survey of 60,000 public school teachers conducted in the 1999-2000 school year to gauge how many teachers in grades 7-12 are highly qualified in the subjects they teach.

Called the Schools and Staffing Survey, it drew on a representative sample of teachers in each state, who were asked to report on whether they held full certification for the subjects they taught and had college majors or the equivalent in those subjects.

Those criteria are the two primarily used to define a highly qualified teacher in the No Child Left Behind Act and were employed in the study to measure how far states had progressed by 2000 in putting such teachers in secondary school classrooms. For each state, the report estimates the percentage of secondary teachers who are fully certified and have majors in their subjects.

Downward Trend

While the states are able, under the law, to establish other criteria that substitute for a college major, tallies of teachers who meet the two primary criteria allow states and subjects to be compared on a roughly equal footing, according to the study.

It is also possible to look at trends in teacher qualifications over time because the same data were collected in the 1993-94 school year, the author, Rolf K. Blank, writes.

Looking at the proxy data, Mr. Blank concludes that "only about two-thirds of secondary teachers in science and math would meet the current NCLB criteria of highly qualified." The rate is higher in English and particularly social studies, according to the research.

Only Arkansas, Minnesota, and Rhode Island, for instance, had more than 85 percent of their math teachers with both full certification and college majors or minors. In science, just four states—Minnesota, Idaho, Iowa, and New Jersey—had more than 85 percent with those qualifications.

That picture contrasts somewhat with that drawn from data on teachers provided by the states themselves under the federal law. Those figures for all 50 states were made public for the first time last month.

A majority of states said at least four out of five classes in all the core subjects were taught last year by highly qualified teachers. ("States Claim Teachers Are 'Qualified,'" Oct. 29, 2003.) Some experts observed then that those figures made meeting the federal mandate for teachers seem imminently achievable in most states.

What's more, the figures from the two federal surveys used by Mr. Blank show that in all four academic subjects, the proportion of highly qualified teachers "did not improve in the majority of states during the 1990s." The reasons, he writes, may include growth in enrollments, increases in teachers per student, and decreases in class sizes, sometimes mandated under state law.

Given the downward trend for the proportion of teachers with both qualifications, the paper says, "the prospect of states meeting the standard of highly qualified teachers set by NCLB ... appears very difficult to accomplish." To do so, Mr. Blank adds, most states will need to take significant policy actions.

Vol. 23, Issue 11, Page 10

Published in Print: November 12, 2003, as Teacher Quality Might Be More Elusive Than Cited
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