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How Many U.S. Students Are Taught by Qualified Teachers?

It turns out, most U.S. public school students are taught by certified and experienced teachers, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics. Still, the numbers vary as you look across states, school districts, and by different school and student characteristics.

The report, published on Tuesday, uses data from the Schools and Staffing Survey and the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The Schools and Staffing Survey provides information on teachers of K-12 students, last collected in the 2011-2012 school year, while the National Assessment of Educational Progress data is from 2013 and 2015 and is specific to 4th and 8th grade math and reading teachers.

Certification Status of U.S. Public School Teachers

At least 90 percent of K-12 public school students in the United States were taught by teachers with state certification in the years studied: 2011-2012, 2013, and 2015. In the 2011-2012 school year, state-certified teachers taught about 95 percent of students across all types of districts ranging from urban to rural. That percentage didn't vary based on student disabilities, language status, or grade level. However, more high school students than middle school students were taught by teachers certified in the subject area for which they were hired, such as English or math.

 graph1.jpgNationally, 92 percent of 4th graders and 90 percent of 8th graders in 2015 were taught by a state-certified math teacher. (In 2013, the percentages were 93 and 92 percent respectively for grades 4 and 8.) But these numbers differed across states, districts, and by various student and school characteristics. For instance, 61 percent of Ohio 4th graders had a math teacher with state certification, compared to nearly 100 percent of 4th graders in Alabama. In the District of Columbia, 59 percent of 8th graders had state-certified math teachers compared to 99 percent of 8th graders in Nebraska.

A smaller percentage of 4th graders and 8th graders in cities had a state-certified math teacher than their counterparts in suburban schools. In urban areas, the difference in access to certified teachers for black students and white students was pronounced: 86.1 percent of black urban 4th graders, for example, had a certified math teacher in 2015 compared to 92.5 percent of white urban 4th graders. In D.C., 59 percent of black 4th graders had a certified math teacher in 2015 compared to 83 percent of white 4th graders.

Students in schools with a high enrollment of minority students were also less likely to be taught by a state-certified math teacher than their counterparts in schools with different demographics. What's more, fewer 4th and 8th graders eligible for free lunch had a certified math teacher than those who did not qualify.

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Experience of U.S. Public School Teachers

At least 75 percent of U.S. students had a teacher with more than five years of experience in the 2011-2012 school year and in 2015. More primary students (82 percent) than high school students (79 percent) had a teacher with the same years of experience in the same time period.

About 76 percent of 4th graders and 75 percent of 8th graders were taught by a math teacher with more than five years of experience in 2015. But the percentages varied widely depending on where the students lived. For instance, 54 percent of D.C. 4th graders in 2015 had a math teacher with more than five years of experience compared to 87 percent of 4th graders in Rhode Island. And 50 percent of D.C. 8th graders had a math teacher with more than five years of experience compared to 89 percent in Alaska and Maine.

As was the case with access to certified teachers, a smaller percentage of urban 4th graders and 8th graders had math teachers with more than five years of experience in 2015 than their counterparts in suburban and rural schools. (See chart below.) And a smaller percentage of 4th and 8th graders eligible for school lunch had math teachers with more than five years of experience in 2015 than those students who did not qualify. 

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