Opinion
Federal Opinion

When ‘Highly Qualified’ Teachers Aren’t

By Lawrence Baines — March 07, 2017 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Recent research confirms that America’s most vulnerable children are being taught by the least-qualified teachers. In 2016, the National Conference of State Legislatures noted that “most state education systems are falling dangerously behind the world. ... At this pace, we will struggle to compete economically against even developing nations, and our children will struggle to find jobs in the global economy.”

One of the purported aims of the No Child Left Behind Act was to ensure a “highly qualified teacher” for every student in every classroom in America. Under that federal law, enacted 15 years ago, this generally required of teachers a bachelor’s degree, state certification, and content knowledge in the subjects they taught. While this is a nice idea, loopholes in alternative-certification programs and the proliferation of emergency certification to fill teaching shortages have made the goal of high quality impossible to achieve.

When 'Highly Qualified' Teachers Aren’t: When it comes to teacher certification, the label “highly qualified” doesn’t mean much, argues University of Oklahoma’s Lawrence Baines.

A teacher can fit the bill as being highly qualified even if he or she has no disposition for working with children, has never taken a course in child development or classroom management, and has done nothing to demonstrate mastery of his or her subject matter. If experience, disposition, education, or credentials don’t matter for prospective teachers, then what does?

Take, for example, Texas—a state where thousands of unprepared teachers enter the classroom each year. The U.S. Department of Education found in 2013-14 that of the 37,270 individuals enrolled in teacher-training programs in Texas, more than 15,000 were in alternative programs unaffiliated with any university. Many new teachers point and click their way to certification over the internet without ever setting foot in a classroom, and circumvent university preparation completely.

The online teacher-certification program A+ Texas Teachers simply requires a bachelor’s degree, a 2.5 GPA, and a check for $4,500 to qualify for enrollment. The program enrolled more than 7,400 students in 2013-14, despite the fact that it received an F for quality from the National Center for Teacher Quality. In contrast, the teacher-preparation program at the University of Texas at Austin, which received an A, enrolled only 241 students in the same year.

The continual dumbing-down of the preparation of teachers is not without consequences."

According to the federal Education Department’s 2015 Title II report, Texas gave authority for teacher certification to 199 entities in 2013-14—including regional service centers, community colleges, and for-profit businesses—which offer about 6,000 different programs. Meanwhile, the Texas Education Agency proudly proclaimed in 2013-14 that 99.5 percent of all new teachers in the state were highly qualified. One wonders about the half percent of teachers who were unable to meet the “standards.”

However, Texas is just one example of a larger trend in teacher quality. The Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind, no longer requires states to monitor teacher quality and says only that Title I teachers must meet state licensing requirements. Schools will no longer have to inform parents that their child’s high school physics teacher actually got a degree in physical education.

The continual dumbing-down of the preparation of teachers is not without consequences. One result of the lack of vetting for new teachers in Texas has been a rapid rise in teacher misconduct in that state. After recording the state’s highest number of cases of teacher misconduct in nearly a decade (222 investigations in the 2016 fiscal year), the Texas Education Agency asked for additional funding to investigate more than 1,100 backlogged allegations.

A second consequence is a consistent decline in student achievement, particularly for minority students. In 2014, the College Board reported that a disproportionate number of African-American and Hispanic students in Texas failed to meet the college- and career-readiness benchmark on their SAT scores. Only 14 percent of African-American students and 19 percent of Hispanic students who took the SAT were considered college ready. Of all the public school test-takers in Texas, only 32 percent met the benchmark. Overall, in 2015, the state saw its lowest SAT scores in more than two decades.

Don’t parents care anymore about the qualifications of the people so central to the intellectual, social, and emotional development of their children? Policies in states like Texas allow anyone and everyone to teach, even the woefully unqualified and the blatantly unprepared. Standards for teacher quality have gotten so low that they are no longer meaningful.

The biggest losers here are the children in American classrooms. A child taught by an effective teacher develops a stronger work ethic, has a better chance of going to college, and earns a higher salary as an adult, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In a recent letter to state superintendents, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos pledged not to “impose unnecessary burdens” on schools. Certainly, an elimination of unnecessary and frivolous bureaucratic obligations would bring welcome relief to schools nationwide. However, a continued diminishing of expectations for teachers will not only damage what’s left of the profession—it will also irreparably hurt children, particularly our most vulnerable children in our lowest-performing schools.

All of the highest-performing countries in the world require teachers to obtain advanced degrees, demonstrate pedagogical and subject-matter expertise, accumulate significant teaching experience, and show an aptitude for working with children before stepping into the classroom as full-time teachers.

Without these stipulations for training and measuring the success of U.S. teachers, we should not consider every person who stands in a K-12 classroom highly qualified. Teacher quality is no burden; it is the key to unlocking the potential of every child.

A version of this article appeared in the March 08, 2017 edition of Education Week as The ‘Highly Qualified Teacher’ Lie

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal K-12 Leaders Denounce Antisemitism But Reject That It's Rampant in Schools
Three school district leaders said they're committed to rooting out antisemitism during a hearing in Congress.
6 min read
From left, David Banks, chancellor of New York Public schools, speaks next to Karla Silvestre, President of the Montgomery Count (Md.) Board of Education, Emerson Sykes, Staff Attorney with the ACLU, and Enikia Ford Morthel, Superintendent of the Berkeley United School District, during a hearing on antisemitism in K-12 public schools, at the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, on May 8, 2024, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
From left, David Banks, chancellor of New York City schools, speaks next to Karla Silvestre, president of the Montgomery County, Md., school board; Emerson Sykes, staff attorney with the ACLU; and Enikia Ford Morthel, superintendent of the Berkeley Unified school district in Berkeley, Calif., during a hearing on antisemitism in K-12 public schools, at the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, on May 8, 2024, in Washington.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Federal Miguel Cardona in the Hot Seat: 4 Takeaways From a Contentious House Hearing
FAFSA, rising antisemitism, and Title IX dominated questioning at a U.S. House hearing with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.
6 min read
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona testifies during a House Committee on Education and Workforce hearing on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, May 7, 2024, in Washington.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona testifies during a House Committee on Education and Workforce hearing on Capitol Hill on May 7 in Washington.
Mariam Zuhaib/AP
Federal Arming Teachers Could Cause 'Accidents and More Tragedy,' Miguel Cardona Says
"This is not in my opinion a smart option,” the education secretary said at an EdWeek event.
4 min read
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona speaks during Education Week’s 2024 Leadership Symposium at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Va., on May 2, 2024.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona speaks during Education Week’s 2024 Leadership Symposium at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Va., on May 2, 2024.
Sam Mallon/Education Week
Federal Opinion Should Migrant Families Pay Tuition for Public School?
The answer must reflect an outlook that is pro-immigration, pro-compassion, and pro-law and order, writes Michael J. Petrilli.
Michael J. Petrilli
4 min read
Image of a pencil holder filled with a variety of colored pencils that match the background with international flags.
Laura Baker/Education Week via Canva