Press Release

(Washington, DC) – A report released today by The Education Trust marshals findings from several recent large-scale studies of student achievement to argue that policy makers hoping to boost student achievement must attend, first and foremost, to issues of teacher quality – the quality of teacher preparation, recruitment, licensure, hiring, assignment and ongoing professional development.

The report, Good Teaching Matters – How Well-Qualified Teachers Can Close the Gap, goes on to assert that the academic achievement gap – the gap in standardized test scores and other measures of achievement that separates low-income students and students of color from other students – could be entirely eliminated if these students were systematically assigned the most highly qualified teachers, rather than the least qualified teachers.

“The research could not be more clear, consistent or compelling,” said Kati  Haycock, Director of The Education Trust and the report’s author. “It supports what parents have known all along: teacher quality matters a lot. Effective teachers can help students achieve enormous gains, while ineffective teachers can do great and lasting damage. The findings say clearly that we simply cannot tolerate anything less than the very best teachers – for all American students.”

The report includes previously unpublished state-by-state data on the  percentage of secondary school classes taught by individuals who do not  hold a college major in the subject areas that they are teaching. Highlights of the report include:

Teacher quality matters…a lot

  • In North Carolina, Robert Strauss and Elizabeth Sawyer found that a 1% increase in teacher scores on the state’s initial teacher  licensing exam would bring about a 5% decrease in the number of North Carolina students failing the state’s academic competency tests.
  • In Tennessee, William Sanders of the University of Tennessee found that students who scored at roughly the same level on mathematics tests in third grade were separated by differences of as much as 50 percentage points on sixth grade tests depending on the quality of the teachers to whom they were assigned. Scoring differences of this magnitude can represent the difference between placement in the “remedial” and “accelerated” tracks.
  • A large-scale Texas study conducted by Ronald Ferguson of Harvard University found that teacher quality – as measured by education, experience, and test scores on initial teacher licensing exams – has more impact on student achievement (explained some 40% of the variance) than any other single factor, including family income and parent education.

Low-income students and students of color are much less likely than others to have well qualified teachers.

  • In Texas, John Kain and Kraig Singleton found that African American and Latino students were far more likely than others to be taught by teachers who scored poorly on the state’s initial teacher licensure exam. Indeed, as the percentage of non-white children in a school increased, the average teacher test score declined.
  • In 30 of the 35 states for which data are available, students in low-income secondary schools were more likely than students in more affluent secondary schools to be enrolled in classes taught by teachers without a college major in the subject area.
  • In about two-thirds of the states for which data are available, students in non-white secondary schools were more likely than students in white secondary schools to be enrolled in classes taught by teachers without a college major in the subject area.

“We take the students who have the least to begin with – the very youngsters who depend most heavily on their teachers for content knowledge – and systematically give them the least qualified teachers. And then, to add insult to injury, we blame the youngsters and their families when the students post low test scores,” Haycock said.

What’s to be done?

Specifically, Haycock calls on Congress, which is finalizing the legislation reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, to preserve the Miller/Bingaman provisions holding colleges and universities that prepare teachers accountable  for the quality of the teachers that they produce. “Given what we know about the importance of good teaching, Congress can’t afford not to demand that higher education take more seriously its responsibility to produce well-prepared teachers.”

Pointing to concerns about teacher quality raised recently in Massachusetts and New York around high failure rates on state teacher licensure exams, Haycock said, “These states are far from alone. It’s just that their data are public. No state should feel complacent about the quality of its teaching force.”

According to The Education Trust, every state needs to take “six common sense” steps to improve teacher quality:

  • Recruit and retain, through rewards, the best and brightest for teaching.
  • Give parents the “right to know” the qualifications of their children’s teachers.
  • Assure that poor and minority children have teachers that are at least as  qualified as the teachers who teach other students.
  • Invest in quality ongoing professional development for teachers once they reach the classroom.
  • Hold colleges and universities accountable for the quality of teachers that they produce.
  • Raise standards for entry into the profession of teaching.