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Highly Qualified Teachers

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One major goal of the federal No Child Left Behind Act was to ensure that all children have high-quality teachers. NCLB reauthorization has raised the issue of the federal government's role in promoting teacher quality. So far, two hot-button topics have focused on addressing the uneven distribution of highly qualified teachers and linking teacher qualifications and performance to salaries.

What do you think? How should the federal law promote teacher quality?

17 Comments

According to the Education Department's own statistics, only five to ten percent of public school teachers do not have a major, a minor or a certificate in their field of study. Not that this has anything to do with a cause of low scores. Remember, the goal is to close the achievement gap. The achievement gap begins in elementary school. In fact, it begins the first day of kindergarten. By fifth grade these children who are at risk are already two or more years behind. All the degrees in the world are not going to help these students. We need to offer them more help in their early years; class sizes of no more than 15 and certified tutors in every room. One does not increase the chance of student success by assuring him six years down the road  a teacher who has a four year degree in math when he has yet to master his subtraction facts.

 I don't see children who are several years behind in math by the time they get to high school refusing to take trigonometry because it's being taught by a teacher with a history major. Does anyone in their right mind actually think that the achievement gap is a cause of  teachers not being sufficiently knowledgeable about their subject content? Just what is the first and second grade content that is unknown by these teachers? Students in the achievement gap are failing middle school algebra the first week of class, not because their teacher who has hardly had time to ask them to put their name of their papers doesn't have a four year degree in math and not because their elementary teachers were not sufficiently smart enough to teach them their basic math facts, how to find the perimeter of a square or whether to use grams or centimeters when weighing Mr. potato head.

If you are going to judge teacher effectiveness by whether they have a major, a minor or a certificate, then urban public school teachers are at least as qualified as those teachers in private schools, charter schools and in many cases other public schools like those in the suburbs . If, then, you have ineffective teachers with low scores in the urban public schools and ineffective teachers in the private schools and other public schools but with much higher scores, how does the ineffective teacher become the cause? How did those private school and suburban school children score so high? I mean, if urban public school kids are sick because they are not eating their broccoli, does it not matter that the private school and suburban school kids are not sick but are also not eating their brocolli? It seems clear to me that it's not the broccoli.

Writing about teacher quality and the number of public school teachers who do not have a major, a minor or a certificate in the area that they teach is like writing about the number of journalists who don't have four years of latin; first, it's not even required and second, and more importantly, it would have no effect on any outcomes.

It seems unlikely that setting higher credentialling criteria will get past the gatekeepers. Yet the research shows that a degree in mathematics does make a difference in student outcomes. Somewhat less evidence in science.

Pile on top of that the evidence of teacher effectiveness gained in the first five years of teaching, the teacher effect from teachers who score highly on SAT/ACT and those who attend better colleges and we have a phenomenon to significant to be ignored. Personally I believe that the most expedient response likely to become reality is through enforcement of the fiscal comparability requirements of Title I funding, and requiring that this be based on actual teacher salaries rather than FTEs.

While there is evidence that inducing highly effective teachers to move to highly challenged schools has a positive effect, I don't see this happening except through isolated local efforts. Holding districts accountable for equitable distribution of salary dollars can have a mitigating effect, however, particularly in large urbans. While this may not induce any teachers to change schools, holding budgets at a comparable level may force some of the more "blessed" recipients of budget dollars to make choices between experienced teachers and wide array of other services. Likewise, schools with a cadre of less experienced teachers may be able to afford some compensatory choices--smaller classes, more faculty support from coaches, curriculum advisors, interventionists, etc, or student support from social workers or curriculum enrichments such as art, music or field trips.

Teachers are not widgets, all alike, capable of producing the same outcome. Recognizing that will be good for the students, but also good for the field.

It is incumbent on all teachers to look more closely at anything that Bush has had to say or legislate regarding our schools, especially No Child Left Behind. Anything or anyone outside the field who scruitinizes teachers and teaching methodology in the classroom deserves closer scrutiny, especially Bush whose grades did not surpass a "C" average. Teachers too often get tied up with classroom management,(due to) too many students, parental interference, nonsupportive administrators and excessive criticism and scrutiny of their lesson plans to free themselves to look around and see the huge political claptraps heading their way.

That being said, as a teacher myself of 32 years,now retired, I have some say in such things as evaluating teacher competencies on the basis of student tests, such as CSAP, which I feel should be outlawed. Statistics and data can be generated to benefit or discredit students and teachers. Teachers end up being the scapegoats, are daily ostracized and summarily removed for no good reason, especially if they speak out. If you hire competent, licenced, degreed teachers to do a job, let them do it, don't you think?


"High Quality" teacher characteristics need to be identified.

I am in the public school system now and I am shocked to find the number of "alternative certification" teachers in the "needy" schools.

Alternative certication needs to be reevaluated. As a faculty memeber of a school of education, the type and amount of training given teachers is as different as day and night. About 80% of the teachers at my school have alternative certification. We are a low ses school whose student score are being scruntized. Why is it that "alternative certified teachers" are in high numbers at the needest schools.

I have personaly talked to some of these teachers and the majority will tell you that they didn't feel prepared to teach, much less in a high needs school.

I know we need teachers in the field and the "alternative certification" is the fastest and cheapest way to get them, however, putting these well meaning individuals in the classroom does not make a "quality teacher". Let start looking closely at these "alternative certification" programs.

A suggestion to improve the quality of students' education, particulary students receiving special education services:
Make mandatory a two year teaching requirement for all Licensed Specialists in School Psychology (L.S.S.P.'s). These highly educated professionals are often placed in positions of leadership over teachers, yet they themselves have no required experience in pedagogy. In my opinion, talking quality needs to start with the quality of our leaders. No significant positive systemic change can occur without improvement in the quality of our administrators.

I've got to disagree with Michael X. Young students who have math-phobic parents at home and math-phobic teachers at school are going to learn math-phobia before they ever come close to learning math. Teachers who are poor at math teach it as the rote MEMORIZATION of disconnected "facts". Calling this "math" is a dangerous misnomer - kids who have poor memorization skills think they're bad at math without ever having learned any! Unlike memorization, MATH is the logical and sensible connection of numbers and concepts. If math were taught this way in the early grades, kids would be developing the skills that are actually useful when they reach algebra and geometry. EVERY teacher who teaches the algorithm for converting a mixed number to an improper fraction should be ready and able to explain to any student WHY that algorithm works, and should be able to do so from first principles.

How in the wide, wide world of sports did math phobia and rote memorization enter the discussion from my comments on the quality of teachers in public and private schools? Math is logical and sensible, as Cheryl writes, but her response was not. I would like to know, also, if Cheryl could tell me the number of years she has taught in an urban public school system?

As someone who's HQ in all the core subjects (a requirement for a self-contained teacher in a middle (secondary) school but not for a k-8), I wish we'd require our superintendent, ass't super, our principals, and perhaps most importantly our parents to become highly qualified as well.

The current regulations which determine that a person is "highly qualified" do not, in fact, accurately examine the quality of those teachers. The requirements are minimal and really just indicate determination to complete the levels of paperwork. Determination of quality teaching means that someone has closely examined how things are being taught by someone and those observations indicate professionalism and understanding of student needs, not just completion of paperwork.

Replace "math-phobic" with "mathematically illiterate" and the sentiment remains the same. I taught and tutored in urban schools, but the problem is universal - the problem being the math curriculum. The elementary and middle school curricula do not prepare students for classes like algebra that require higher mathematical thinking. Higher-income families are more likely to have relatives and/or tutors who can make up for the curriculum gap. Failing that, highly qualified teachers who have strong mathematical skills and understand -> and can teach <- how the "facts" and "basics" are used as part of the problem-solving process (rather than memorized as disconnected tidbits) are necessary to make up for the gaps in curriculum.

Regarding Cheryl's insightful comments about curricular concernsin math classrooms: I agree and have found this to be a recurrent theme. I find myself having to consistently rewrite curriculum across disciplines in order to address the problem solving process. Teaching critical thinking is largely overlooked (avoided?) in our classrooms, and, in my opinion, NCLB has exacerbated this problem.

I wonder if Cheryl could tell us by what means of assessment the public is able to decide which schools in a state are succeeding in math and which schools are not? If she can't, perhaps someone else can help me out.

I have often been saddened by the fact that our society does not hold teachers on the same educational level as doctors or lawyers. Right now I am in a Master’s program for teaching and my friend is doing the same to be a physician. She has no problem not working to focus on her education and taking out loans because she knows that her future salary will easily pay them off. I struggle to work, while I cram in as many classes a semester as a can, and I stay awake at night wondering if I will ever be able to pay off my loans. There is almost no incentive, except maybe a slightly higher starting salary, for teachers to seek higher education. In addition, I feel that highly educated teachers are important. A knowledgeable teacher is better able to teach to students with a variety of leaning styles and needs.

Knowledge is overrated. The achievement gap begins the first day of kindergarten in the urban public schools and that is where we have to get our first stranglehold on it. We don't need to be able to teach Einstein's Field Equations or Schwarzschild geometry to second and third graders. Kids in private school are doing just fine with less educated teachers than the public schools. Teachers are not the missing variable, the home is. To counter the effects that many children drag with them to school everyday because of conditions well outside the authority of the school, we must make up those deficits with much more face time(smaller classes) and tutors in the early years. Until poverty ceases, crime stops, drugs disappear and moms and dads don't go to prison we need to attack these children often and in small groups. Don't invest heavily in the early years and sit back and watch A Nation at Risk, part two.

We are raising and teaching whole children. In my opinion, NCLB's hyperfocus on content knowledge to the exclusion of teaching the whole person is a travesty. All the data analysis in the world will not be helpful if we ignore the social-emotional needs of our students. To paraphrase Maslow, "He that is good with a hammer, thinks everything is a nail."

Unfortunately money rules the world. If the Government or the State wants to have Highly Qualified Teachers, they need to pay for them. At the beginning of this school year I heard on TV a discussion in regards to the problem schools are facing this year in the state of New Jersey because a good amount of teachers are leaving their field seeking better salaries. The question was why? The answer was money and recognition.

The situation is sad. The solution for this problem has to come from the top, from the Government. We need to pay our teachers a fair salary according to the job they do and the preparation they have. We need to lift them up in appreciation for educating the future of our country. We need to reward them for the amount of time and consideration they have for our children.

Only by doing this, teachers will not leave their jobs, college students will chose to pursue teaching as a career, and teachers will improve themselves by taking extra courses to be better prepared for their everyday challenges.
Only then will we have teachers being what they ought to be….HIGHLY QUILIFIED TEACHERS.

Nury G,
Count me as a data point. When I left teaching to accept an engineering position, I literally more than doubled both my salary and my benefits. And as an added bonus, my work day actually ends when I go home at 5:00. How many teachers can say that?

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  • Cheryl - Radar Engineer/Math Teacher/Parent: Nury G, Count me as a data point. When I read more
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