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Officials See Scant Gains From NCLB Rules On Teachers

By Debra Viadero — August 22, 2007 3 min read

A 5 ½-year-old federal requirement that calls for staffing most classrooms with “highly qualified” teachers doesn’t appear to be doing much to improve student achievement or make teachers more effective, according to a survey released today by the Center on Education Policy.

“These provisions are being complied with,” said Jack Jennings, the president and chief executive officer of the Washington-based research and advocacy organization. “But there’s a great deal of skepticism about whether they’re going to make any difference.”

Under the teacher-quality provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, states and districts have to staff core academic and fine arts classes with teachers who hold long-term licenses and demonstrate expertise in their subjects by completing coursework, passing state tests, or meeting some other criteria.

To find out whether the law’s teacher-quality mandate has made a difference so far, the center surveyed the officials in charge of implementing it in all 50 states and in a nationally representative sample of 349 districts. The study also gathered feedback from forums and more in-depth case studies in 17 districts.

While administrators in 83 percent of the districts said their school systems fully complied with the law, states appeared to be facing more of a challenge. At the time of the survey—late fall of last year and early winter of this one—only three states could boast that “highly qualified” teachers staffed 100 percent of the classrooms that the law targets, most likely because states have so many more schools than any given district does. Another 14 states said they expected to reach that goal by the end of the 2006-07 school year.

Effect on Achievement

Despite widespread implementation of the law, officials in more than half the states and two-thirds of the districts said the requirements have had little, if any, impact on student achievement.

Likewise, officials in 74 percent of the districts and in 19 of the states said the law had been minimally effective, or not effective at all, at producing better teachers.

The law’s teacher-quality provisions were prompted in part by studies showing that students in poorer schools and districts were often taught by less experienced, less qualified teachers than their counterparts in more affluent schools and districts.

In the area of how well teacher expertise is distributed, the officials gave the mandate a more mixed evaluation: Five states reported that the requirement had led to a more equitable distribution of experienced, well-qualified teachers among schools. Seventeen states said it had been “somewhat” effective in that regard, and another 17 said that teacher distribution had become “minimally” more equitable since passage of the law. The rest either did not know or said they saw no difference in the teaching staffs at schools with high poverty levels.

A key problem with the law from the administrators’ point of view is its narrow focus on content knowledge as an indicator of high-quality teaching, said the CEP’s Mr. Jennings, who is a former longtime education aide to congressional Democrats. The definition fails to account for other factors, such as personal qualities, that also make teachers effective in the classroom, he said.

States and districts are having particular problems, the study also found, in recruiting special education teachers who meet the federal definition—a situation that leads the researchers to conclude that the federal requirements should be more flexible for some teachers.

Samara Yudof, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education, did not dispute the report’s findings yesterday. In an e-mail to Education Week, she said department officials are “working to support states as they aim to meet” the NCLB law’s teacher-quality provisions “and get our best teacher in our highest-need schools.”

The law, a centerpiece of President Bush’s first-term agenda that passed Congress with big, bipartisan majorities in late 2001, is due for reauthorization this year.

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