Fall 2003


Report on Teacher Quality Sent To Congress

Reprinted from NSTA Reports with permission

A report issued in July by the Secretary of Education outlines the challenges to recruiting and preparing future teachers and provides information on exemplary programs the Department believes will meet these challenges.

“One of the most important provisions of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is the requirement that by the 2005–06 school year, all teachers of core academic subjects must be highly qualified,” says Secretary of Education Rod Paige in the report, titled Meeting the Highly Qualified Teachers Challenge: The Secretary’s Second Annual Report on Teacher Quality. “To meet this challenge, all of us in the education system must do things differently. We must be innovative, not just in theory, but in practice.”

The two key principles of recruiting and preparing future teachers, says Paige, are raising academic standards for teachers and lowering barriers that are keeping many talented people out of the teaching profession.

“The current system (for recruiting and licensing teachers) dissuades many high- achieving college students and mid-career professionals from entering the teaching profession because it places unnecessary obstacles in their path,” says the report, which details how states are working to recruit and prepare teachers.

What Makes a Good Teacher?

The report points out that wide consensus now exists among researchers and policymakers that teacher quality is a key component of school quality. Although consistent evidence shows that effective teachers contribute to student achievement, less information exists about the specific teacher attributes that lead to increased student achievement. In other words, the report asks, “How would you know a high-quality teacher if you saw one?”

According to the report, research shows the following:

Teachers’ general cognitive ability is the attribute that is most strongly correlated with effectiveness.

Teacher experience and content knowledge are linked to gains in student achievement.

Training in pedagogy, the amount of time spent practice teaching, and master’s degrees have yet to be linked to increases in student achievement.

Little compelling evidence exists that certification requirements, as currently structured in most states, are related to teacher effectiveness.

The Department does stress that “neither last year’s report nor the present report contend that attributes like training in pedagogy or time spent in the field practice teaching are not valuable. All the reports suggest is that the evidence linking these attributes to increases in student achievement is weak, and certainly not as strong as the evidence linking general cognitive ability, experience, and content knowledge to teacher effectiveness.”

The report also presents a continued need for research on teacher quality. “Research on teacher preparation and professional development is a long way from the stage of converging evidence and professional consensus,” it states, noting that much of the research on teacher quality is dated, methodologically flawed, correlational in nature, and focused on differences among teachers rather than the interventions that raise effectiveness for all teachers.

NCLB’s Highly Qualified Teacher Requirement

“By recognizing the link between quality teaching and student achievement, NCLB has refocused the national dialogue on how teachers should be trained and certified as well as who should teach,” says the report.

NCLB requires that all core subject teachers be highly qualified by 2005–06. This means they must have earned at least a bachelor’s degree from a four-year institution, hold full state certification, and demonstrate competence in their subject area.

Newly hired elementary teachers must pass a rigorous state test of subject knowledge and teaching skills. Newly hired middle level and high school teachers must pass a rigorous exam of the content knowledge, major in their subject as an undergraduate, or earn a graduate degree in their subject or attain an advanced certificate or degree.

Veteran middle and high school teachers must also demonstrate subject-matter competency by passing assessments; obtaining a degree in their subject; or meeting their state’s high, objective, uniform state standard of evaluation (HOUSSE).

Raising Standards and Lowering Barriers

Are states making progress in raising academic standards for teachers while lowering unnecessary barriers? Some positive developments highlighted in the report include

Thirty-five states have developed and linked teacher certification requirements to student content standards. Another six are in the process of linking these standards.

Thirty-five states require prospective teachers to hold a subject-area bachelor’s degree for initial certification.

All but 8 states require statewide assessments for beginning teachers, and 32 states require teaching candidates to pass a test in at least one academic content area.

Although states have until the end of the 2005–06 school year to ensure all their teachers are highly qualified, the Department of Education points out areas of potential concern:

Only 54 percent of the nation’s secondary school teachers were highly qualified during the 1999–2000 school year; this ranged from 47 percent of math teachers to 55 percent of science and social studies teachers.

State regulations for certifying new teachers are burdensome and bureaucratic.

NCLB requires that new teachers demonstrate competency in their subject areas to be considered highly qualified. In 2000–01, 32 states required teacher candidates to undergo academic content assessment for certification or licensure. Twenty-two states administer basic skills tests along with academic content assessments.

Approximately 6 percent of the teaching force lacked full certification in 2001–02. Seven states report having more than 10 percent of their teachers on waivers. High-poverty districts were more likely to employ teachers on waivers than affluent districts; 8 percent of teachers in high-poverty schools were on waivers in the 2001–02 school year, compared with 5 percent in other districts.

Meeting the Highly Qualified Teachers Challenge

The report concedes that “meeting the highly qualified teachers challenge is too big a project for any one program, school, or state—or even for the U. S. Department of Education—to tackle alone. Only a partnership will prevail.”

It goes on to highlight specific examples of “promising reforms and initiatives” designed to address the teacher quality challenge in two areas: improving traditional teacher preparation programs and alternatives to the traditional certification system.

Innovations in Traditional Teacher Preparation

West Virginia University’s Benedum Collaborative. The core of the collaborative’s five-year program is a partnership with 29 local professional development schools. Students are admitted to the program after sophomore year, and they immediately begin clinical work in a local school. Over the next three years, they log 1,100 hours of clinical experience while taking courses linked to their clinical work. At graduation, students earn a bachelor’s degree in a content area and a master’s degree in education. The collaborative also instructs teacher candidates in performing research and gathering data to assess their practice.

Uteach (Natural Sciences) at the University of Texas at Austin. (See sidebar on page x.)

Standards-based Teacher Education Project (STEP). The STEP collaborative is a multi-state effort between the Council for Basic Education and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. Together they work with colleges and universities to link teacher training to state academic standards. STEP convenes task forces of faculty from schools of education, arts, and sciences; K–12 schools; and community colleges to review and re-work an institution’s teacher training program, with the focus of aligning teachers’ knowledge of content with the expectations for students found in the state academic standards. To date, 25 campuses in five states have completed the three-year STEP program, and 15 colleges and universities in Mississippi, Virginia, and Indiana are working with STEP.

Innovative Alternative Routes to Teaching

As of October 2002, all but nine states had approved an alternative certification program. According to the Department of Education, alternative routes tend to attract experienced professionals, as well as more minority and male candidates, to teaching. These teachers tend to work in urban or low-performing schools at a rate higher than traditionally certified teachers.

Several examples of exemplary alternative certification programs mentioned in the report are listed below.

American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence. This group is developing an alternative certification program. The “Passport Certification” will be provided to candidates who hold a bachelor’s degree, demonstrate mastery of their subject matter, pass a test of professional knowledge, and complete a preservice program of professional development. A Master Teacher credential for those who demonstrate outstanding proficiency in their subjects will be available in 2004.

California’s Technology to Teachers Program. In 2001, California awarded a two-year, $1.6 million grant to five different workforce investment boards to create a program offering laid-off technology workers the opportunity to enter the state’s teaching force. Currently about 115 teaching candidates are enrolled in university-based alternative programs; the goal is to attract up to 200 laid-off workers to teach in science and math classrooms.

New York City Teaching Fellows. During the summer before they enter the classroom, candidates with at least a bachelor’s degree receive two months of preservice training that includes courses toward earning their master’s in education, field work with experienced teachers, and meetings with an advisor to learn teaching skills and classroom-based management. After completing the preservice training, they enter the classroom as full-time, first-year teachers. After three years, they can apply for state certification.

Western Governors University. WGU, an online consortium of 19 western states and 45 universities, developed competency-based distance learning programs for teaching candidates. The program is based on a candidate’s competency instead of the number of hours he or she spent in the classroom. It is designed for nontraditional candidates, such as paraprofessionals, uncertified teachers, and career-changers, as well as for current teachers who want to advance their education.

Teach for America. This program recruits high-achieving college students to spend at least two years in a disadvantaged urban or rural school. Since 1990, Teach for America has placed more than 9,000 college students in schools nationwide. These teachers receive five weeks of training during the summer and take courses toward certification during the year while they teach full time.

Transition to Teaching Partnership. This partnership between the Fairfax County School District in Fairfax, VA, and the George Washington University works to attract high-performing liberal arts and science graduates to teaching. Students make a one-year commitment to serve as permanent substitute teachers in the county high schools while taking the necessary coursework for licensure at the university.

This report is the second teacher quality report submitted to Congress as required by the Higher Education Act. For more information or to access the report, titled Meeting the Highly Qualified Teachers Challenge, The Secretary’s Second Annual Report on Teacher Quality, go to