Equity & Diversity

Teachers Achieving ‘Highly Qualified’ Status on the Rise

By Vaishali Honawar — June 06, 2008 5 min read
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Teachers meeting the “highly qualified” standard their states set were teaching core subjects in 94 percent of the nation’s classrooms in the 2006-07 school year, but poorer schools were still less likely than their wealthier counterparts to employ them.

That year, 96 percent of core-subject classes in low-poverty schools were taught by highly qualified teachers, compared with 91 percent in high-poverty schools, according to the U.S. Department of Education, which recently released the data (requires Microsoft Excel) that states are required to submit to the federal agency.

In some states, the gap was glaring. In Maryland, 95 percent of elementary classes in low-poverty schools were staffed with highly qualified teachers, compared with only 66 percent in poorer schools.

But the overall picture showed progress. According to the data, there was an increase of 7 percentage points in the total number of highly qualified teachers nationwide who were teaching core-subject classes since 2003-04.

The “highly qualified” teacher requirement is a provision of the 6-year-old No Child Left Behind Act. All states must report annually the percentage of core-subject classes taught by highly qualified teachers and break down the numbers for classes in high-poverty and low-poverty schools.

Only one state—North Dakota—met last year’s deadline to have highly qualified teachers in 100 percent of its core-subject classes.

Making Progress

But Amanda Farris, the deputy assistant secretary of the office of elementary and secondary education at the federal Education Department, said officials are satisfied other states are making good progress.

“We are pleased to see everyone well on the way to having teachers who are highly qualified,” she said. Further, she said, states are doing a better job of reporting data.

Education observers are worried, however, about the significant disparities between poorer and wealthier schools.

“When we look at the high-poverty urban and rural settings, we still see a significant gap in the allocation of highly qualified teachers,” said Tom Carroll, the president of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, a research and advocacy group based in Washington.

See Also

For more stories on this topic see No Child Left Behind.

Mr. Carroll called for a report on the distribution of highly qualified teachers by student demographics, including ethnicity and family-income level. “If we were to see that report, we would see a starkly different allocation of teaching quality that would leave us concerned about whether we were allocating teachers effectively to close the gap,” he added.

In 48 states, according to the data, high-poverty schools were less likely than wealthier ones to have secondary classes taught by highly qualified teachers. In 38 states, high-poverty schools were less likely to have elementary classes taught by such teachers.

National Status

Fewer core academic courses were taught by “highly qualified” teachers in high-poverty schools than in lower-poverty schools nationwide in the 2006-07 school year, especially at the secondary level.


Source: U.S. Department of Education

Observers like Heather Peske, the director of teaching quality for the Education Trust, a Washington-based group that advocates improvements in the education of disadvantaged students, reiterate a long-standing complaint from education watchers: The data do not reflect student-performance gains, which makes it difficult to say how effective the teachers really are. The federal requirements, Ms. Peske said, are just a minimum standard for teacher quality.

Still, she added, the annually released data can be useful in signaling any “pernicious patterns” among states.


To be deemed highly qualified, teachers of math, science, social studies, the arts, reading, and languages must hold a long-term license and demonstrate their content knowledge by getting a college major, by passing a test in the subject taught, or by some other means set by the state. New teachers must earn a college major in the subject or pass tests in the subjects they teach. But even this, observers say, has been compromised by cutoff scores that differ by state.

For background, previous stories, and Web links, read Teacher Quality.

“The way states define highly qualified teachers and what counts and doesn’t count varies, ... rendering cross-state comparisons useless,” said Barnett Berry, the president of the Center for Teaching Quality, an advocacy and research group in Hillsborough, N.C.

Louisiana registered the second-highest disparity for highly qualified teachers in high- and low-poverty schools.

Sheila Talamo, an assistant superintendent in the office of educator support in Louisiana, said the state’s low-poverty schools have levels of poverty that exceed those in high-poverty schools elsewhere.

“Looking at the high-poverty versus low-poverty schools and the distribution of low-poverty students, ... the conversation doesn’t reflect the pervasiveness of poverty in different states,” she said.

Mary Gable, the director of instructional programs for the Maryland education department, said her state has two large systems, Prince George’s County and Baltimore, with very high numbers of high-poverty schools that reflect in the state aggregate. For instance, all of Baltimore’s elementary schools fall into the high-poverty category.

Those districts and others, Ms. Gable said, are offering teachers reimbursements for tests toward obtaining the highly qualified status and other incentives. “Districts are also taking a look at their data and ... analyzing what is the reason for not getting there, and developing strategies,” she said.


Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, and West Virginia reported a backslide of more than 5 percentage points over five years in their numbers of highly qualified teachers.

The federal Department of Education’s Ms. Farris said the regression could be explained by improved data collection by the states.

Melissa McGrath, a spokeswoman for the Idaho education department, said that under a different administration, it had inaccurately counted the number of “highly qualified” teachers the first year. In correcting it, the numbers dropped, she said.

In 2006-07, 71.3 percent of core-subject classes were taught by highly qualified teachers, the federal data show, a rate that went up to 90 percent as of December, Ms. McGrath said.

A version of this article appeared in the June 11, 2008 edition of Education Week as Teachers Achieving ‘Highly Qualified’ Status on the Rise


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