The Secretary's Third Annual Report on Teacher Quality
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Chapter One: The Highly Qualified Teachers Challenge Revisited
"I was in a classroom for many years. I know the joy and frustration of teaching. My parents were teachers. I greatly admired their work, so I became a teacher too. I admire anyone who teaches, because it is a noble, honored profession."
- Secretary Rod Paige

The passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 marked a growing bipartisan will to address the teacher quality challenge. Indeed, forces are converging to highlight the urgency of making improvements in teaching and learning for all students. Our world today--shaped by increasingly global markets and rapid technological advances--operates by different rules. We are learning fast that what was good enough for previous generations is not sufficient today and woefully inadequate for the future.

In fact, what we are learning is that the urgency to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers to prepare today's students--all students--for the future is fundamentally intertwined with the competitiveness and security of the nation. Consider, for example, that a coalition of CEOs of the nation's leading information technology firms has recently concluded that any strategy to accelerate U.S. economic growth and increase the availability of good jobs must include demonstrable improvements in teacher preparation and performance (Computer Systems Policy Project, 2004). Only through a national commitment to build and sustain a highly qualified teaching force will we be able to provide all students with a world-class education. As the landmark initial report of The Teaching Commission (2004) notes: "Clearly, what we are doing today is not working. It is time for revolutionary--not evolutionary--change." We know we can and must do better.

Highly Qualified Teachers Matter

Highly qualified teachers matter. While on the face of it this simple declaration seems obvious, it is only in recent years that rigorous research evidence has begun to emerge to support what educators, parents and students have long viewed as plain truth: Teachers are an important determinant of a child's education, of a good school and ultimately--of the future economic health of this great nation (McCaffrey, Lockwood, Koretz and Hamilton, 2003).

We know that being a highly qualified teacher matters because the academic achievement levels of students who are taught by good teachers increase at greater rates than the levels of those who are taught by other teachers. In fact, highly qualified teachers are able to raise the academic achievement levels of all students to high levels--not just the students who are already performing well (due to the diligent work of prior teachers, strong parental involvement or innate aptitude). Consider that the difference between having a good teacher for three years in a row versus another teacher can represent as much as 50 percentile points in student achievement on a 100-point scale (Babu and Mendro, 2003; Mendro, Jordan, Gomez, Anderson and Bembry, 1998; Rivers, 1999; Sanders and Rivers, 1996). This is an influence greater than race, poverty level or parent's education (Carey, 2004).

As a nation, we spend billions of dollars on public elementary and secondary schools and then billions more addressing the lack of basic skills among students and employees. While recent reforms have seen a welcome rise in national math scores, overall test scores have remained flat for the last 30 years (Peterson, 2003). Moreover, international comparisons show that our high school students continue to lag behind high school students in many other industrialized countries in measures of math and science achievement (The Teaching Commission, 2004). Perhaps even more disturbing are the educational achievement gaps between students of different races and means within many of our nation's school systems. In economic terms, our nation simply cannot afford a poorly educated workforce, ill equipped to compete in an increasingly global market.

The Highly Qualified Teachers Challenge

The nation needs highly qualified teachers to reduce achievement gaps between students of different races and means and to raise overall student achievement. Moreover, the realities of an aging teaching force suggest that identifying and addressing the key policy, regulatory and practical barriers to recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers is even more urgent for the nation if we hope not to lag behind other high-performing nations. Indeed, investments in improving the preparation, support and retention of good teachers are among the most important that we can make for the future of the nation. Such investments include:

  • Improving the preparation of new teachers through the establishment of high state standards and accountability for initial teacher preparation and licensure.

  • Reducing barriers to becoming a teacher among otherwise highly qualified individuals by retooling traditional teacher preparation programs and opening up alternative routes to teaching.

  • Reforming state and local policies to ensure that qualified and effective teachers serve the neediest students.

  • Improving the content knowledge of experienced1 teachers as well as providing them with supports and incentives aligned to what matters most (including providing incentives to teach in hard-to-staff schools and high-demand subjects and for improvements in student performance).

Importantly, in so doing, as a nation we must hold true to two key principles: the need to continue to raise academic standards for teachers, while at the same time working to lower barriers that are keeping many talented people out of the teaching profession.

The Teacher Advancement Program

The Milken Family Foundation developed a program to attract more talented people to the K-12 teaching profession--and keep them there--by making the job more attractive and rewarding. This comprehensive program, called the Teacher Advancement Program or TAP (see http://www.mff.org/tap/tap.taf), provides teachers with career path and advancement opportunities, compensates expert teachers for their skills and responsibilities, restructures school schedules to accommodate teacher-led professional development, introduces competitive hiring practices and pays teachers based on how well they instruct and how much their students learn. These components make the teaching profession more appealing, the job conditions more manageable and the pay for high-quality teachers more generous.

Currently, TAP is being implemented in seven states (Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana and South Carolina) and the entire districts of Eagle County, Colo., and Sumter County, Fla. In fact, the Department of Education supports the program's implementation of TAP in several schools in Arizona, Arkansas and South Carolina. All told, more than 75 campuses are involved in TAP--affecting more than 35,000 students and 2,100 teachers--and that number is expected to grow by the beginning of the 2004-2005 school year.

Results from three years in Arizona and two in South Carolina are encouraging. When comparing year-to-year changes in student achievement, TAP schools outperformed their control counterparts 68 percent of the time. The program's early success can be attributed, at least in part, to significantly improved teaching. Further, despite conflicting research that suggests competition and dissatisfaction increase among teachers involved in performance-pay systems, collegiality and teacher satisfaction have remained strong in these schools. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that TAP helps address the challenge of enticing high-quality teachers to low socioeconomic status schools where they are needed most. By combining the TAP principles in an effective strategy for reform, this program is working to turn teaching from a revolving-door profession into a highly rewarding, vibrant career choice, all while producing measurable achievement gains for students.

What Is a "Highly Qualified Teacher?"

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) requires that all public school teachers of core academic subjects2 meet the highly qualified requirements of their state by the end of the 2005-2006 school year, and that new teachers in school programs serving high-need student populations (i.e., Title I-targeted assistance programs or schoolwide program schools) meet the highly qualified requirements immediately. To be highly qualified, a teacher must possess at minimum a bachelor's degree, have full state certification and demonstrate subject matter mastery in each subject taught.

For elementary school teachers new to the profession, teachers must demonstrate subject matter mastery by passing a rigorous state test of subject knowledge and teaching skills in reading and language arts, writing, mathematics and other areas of the basic elementary school curriculum. New middle and high school teachers may demonstrate competency by passing a rigorous state test in each subject taught or by holding an academic major or course work equivalent to an academic major (or an advanced degree, advanced certification or credentials).

Experienced teachers (those hired before the start of the 2002-2003 school year) may demonstrate competency by either meeting the requirements for new teachers or by meeting criteria set by the state. NCLB allows each state to create a high, objective, uniform state standard of evaluation (HOUSSE) by setting criteria that:

  1. Are established by the state for grade-appropriate academic subject matter knowledge and teaching skills.
  2. Are aligned with challenging state academic content and student achievement standards and developed in consultation with core content specialists, teachers, principals and school administrators.
  3. Provide objective, coherent information about the teacher's attainment of core content knowledge in the academic subjects in which a teacher teaches.
  4. Are applied uniformly to all teachers in the same academic subject and the same grade level throughout the state.
  5. Take into consideration, but are not based primarily on, the time a teacher has been teaching the academic subject.
  6. Are made available to the public upon request.

The HOUSSE system of evaluation may involve multiple, objective measures of subject matter competency.

Flexibility and New Opportunities for State Leadership

While NCLB outlines a minimum set of requirements related to content knowledge and teaching skills that a highly qualified teacher must meet, it provides the flexibility for each state to develop a definition of highly qualified that is consistent with NCLB as well as with the unique needs of each state. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Education recently announced greater flexibility in three areas, offering new opportunities for state policymakers and administrators to provide leadership in meeting the highly qualified teachers challenge.

The first new area of flexibility recognizes that teachers in small, rural and isolated areas--areas that represent about one-third of the nation's school districts--are often assigned to teach multiple subjects. As such, these teachers face unique challenges in meeting the highly qualified provisions and may need additional time to meet the requirements in all subjects they teach. As long as experienced teachers in eligible districts are highly qualified in at least one subject, they will now have until the end of 2006-2007 to become highly qualified in the additional subjects they teach; newly hired teachers must also meet the highly qualified requirements in one subject, but would have three years after their date of hire to meet the requirements in the other subjects they teach. Furthermore, districts must provide these teachers with the training and support they need to meet the requirements in the extended time.

For science teachers, the Department will allow states the flexibility to use their own certification standards to determine subject-matter competency, rather than requiring it for each science subject. For example, if a state certifies teachers in the general field of science, a science teacher may demonstrate subject-matter competency through a "broad field" test or major. If a state requires certification or licensure in specific science subjects, such as chemistry, biology or physics, the teacher would be required to demonstrate competency in each of the subjects.

The third area of flexibility recently announced assists experienced teachers who teach multiple subjects, particularly teachers in middle schools and those teaching students with special needs. Under the new guidelines, states may streamline their highly qualified teacher evaluation process so that experienced multi-subject teachers can demonstrate that they are highly qualified in each of their subjects through only one process.

Conclusion: An Overview of National Progress

In partnering with states, institutions of higher education, schools and teachers to bring a highly qualified teacher to every class-room, the Department is serious about addressing the teacher quality challenge. As a nation, what progress are we making?

According to HEA Title II data (and detailed in succeeding chapters), over the last three years many states and territories have made progress on a number of fronts. Between 2001 and 2003:

  • In recognition of the importance of ensuring significant content knowledge among prospective teachers, states report raising academic standards in certification requirements, including ending emergency certification, as required by law.
  • States report having made progress in implementing criteria for assessing teacher preparation program performance.
  • States report opening up alternative routes to the classroom for prospective teachers. Many states have approved one or more alternative routes, and several are currently considering, or have proposed, new or additional alternative routes to certification.

Of course, other indicators demand further consideration, investigation and action. For instance:

  • Because minimum passing scores for most state academic content assessments for prospective teachers are set below the national averages on these exams, such assessments tend to screen out only the very lowest performing teacher candidates.
  • Barriers for teachers pursuing traditional routes to certification and licensure generally have not been lessened.
  • The numbers and distribution of teachers on waivers remain problematic. In fact, states report that the problem of underprepared teachers is worse on average in districts that serve large proportions of high-poverty children.

In addressing the remaining challenges, the U.S. Department of Education is committed to doing its part. Chapter 2 highlights the numerous efforts undertaken by the Department during the last year alone to improve the quality of teacher preparation nationwide, while Chapter 3 provides an in-depth look at state progress, including extensive analyses of state activities and examples of promising projects. Chapter 4 concludes this report with a discussion of future opportunities for teacher quality improvement.

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Last Modified: 12/04/2009