States Face Dearth of Qualified Teachers
By Pamela M. Prah, Staff Writer
States have a long way to go to ensure every classroom has a "highly qualified" teacher as new federal education rules require, a new report by Education Week says.
The report, "Quality Counts 2003: If I Can't Learn From You," also found that while states use an array of incentives to attract and retain teachers, few states take steps to land teachers where they are needed most: in high-poverty, high-minority or low-performing schools.
The report, which was released Tuesday (1/7), comes nearly one year after President Bush signed into law a sweeping education reform initiative, known as No Child Left Behind.
The new federal education law requires a "highly qualified" teacher in every classroom by the end of the 2005-06 school year. Starting this year, states must report how many highly qualified teachers are in the state, broken down between high and low-poverty schools.
States can come up with their own definition of "highly qualified", but many are relying on the federal government's definition, which requires teachers be fully licensed and have an undergraduate degree in the subjects they teach or pass subject-matter tests.
States are going to have to step up their efforts to meet these new federal requirements, according to the report. Note the following:
- Just 33 states and D.C. require subject-knowledge tests for teachers to earn a beginning license and 29 states and D.C. require all high school teachers to have majored in the main subjects they teach.
- Only four states and D.C. require middle school teachers to have majored in their subjects.
- Kentucky alone bars the practice of assigning teachers to classes for which they are not certified, known as out-of-field teaching.
- Only New York prohibits the practice of hiring teachers with emergency licenses in its lowest-achieving schools.
- Only 22 states require that "report cards" on individual schools or school districts include information about teacher characteristics, such as the percentage with emergency credentials. Just four states publicly report teacher qualifications broken down by school type.
The report found that students in high-poverty, high minority and low-performing schools are less likely than other students to be taught by teachers trained in their subjects and that few states have designed specific policies to close the gap.
"If states hope to close the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students and those from rich and poor families, they must first close the gap in access to skilled teachers," Virginia B. Edwards, editor of the report and Education Week, said.
For example, the study found that while 24 states provide college scholarships, loans or other tuition assistance to future teachers, only seven states target these programs to get more teachers in high-need schools. Five states provide signing bonuses for teachers, but only California and Massachusetts gear the bonuses to teachers willing to work at poor or inner-city schools. Thirty-four states and D.C. offer retention bonuses to veteran or highly qualified teachers, but only five of them aim those bonuses at teachers in high-poverty, high-minority, or low-achieving schools or districts.
Teachers' unions said the report's finding show that states and the federal government need to do more to help guarantee that all teachers are qualified.
"This report should be a wake-up call for policymakers in Washington, D.C., and state capitals around the country who have been claiming they want all schools to succeed, while at the same time refusing to support teacher recruitment and training programs for the schools that need it most," said Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, the country's largest teachers' union.
The American Federation of Teachers said school districts willing to boost pay and provide training see the benefits.
New York City, for example, last year offered higher pay for starting teachers and was able to hire certified teachers to end that city's persistent teacher shortage.
"States need to stop hiding behind averages, and focus on producing, attracting and retaining qualified teachers where they are needed most - in schools and districts serving low-income and minority students," according to Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, a nonprofit advocacy group.
Education Week's report also gives states a "C" for their overall education efforts.
Not a single state earned an "A" for improving teacher quality and only nine states were in the "B" range on this front. South Carolina was the lone state with a B+ while Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Kentucky and North Carolina got "B's". Earning "B minuses" were Indiana, Ohio and Oklahoma.
Education Week is published by Editorial Projects in Education, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. The report was funded in part by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the same organization that funds Stateline.org.