Press Release

ALL TALK, NO ACTION: Putting an end to out-of-field teaching

Publication date: Aug 21, 2002

(Washington, DC)– – A report released today by The Education Trust offers the first available state-by-state analysis of the newest federal data on the percentage of core academic secondary school classes taught by a teacher without a major or minor in the subject, a practice known as out-of-field  teaching. The study finds that the amount of out-of-field teaching in the nation and states remains unacceptably high, with classes in high-poverty and high-minority schools much more likely to be assigned to a teacher without a major or minor in the subject being taught. It also finds that the problem reaches crisis proportions when analyzing middle-grades separately.

The report, “All Talk, No Action: Putting an End to Out-of-Field Teaching,” offers a real and comparable look at which states face the biggest challenges meeting the new No Child Left Behind Act requirement for hiring only ‘highly-qualified’ teachers. Beginning this Fall, the Act requires all new hires in Title I secondary schools to have a major or the equivalent in each and every subject in which they provide instruction. By 2005-06, that requirement will apply to all secondary teachers in every state receiving Title I funds.

This special analysis of the recently released database from the U.S. Department of Education’s 1999-2000 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) —  a massive and statistically representative sample of American schoolteachers –yields the most up-to-date and reliable information available for comparably examining out-of-field teaching across the nation and in each state. The SASS was last administered in 1993-94.

“Too often, state definitions of out-of-field teaching are riddled with loopholes and these data offer the public an incredibly important and honest assessment of the real scope of the problem,” said Craig D. Jerald, senior policy analyst with The Education Trust and author of the report.

“The equity implications are simply staggering,” said Kati Haycock, Director of The Education Trust, upon releasing the report. “When after years of talking about teacher quality and closing the achievement gap, the only real change nationally since the last data were available is an increase in the percentage of classes in high-poverty and high-minority schools assigned to teachers without a major or minor in the subject, there’s something very wrong.”

The report makes clear that the huge and growing problem of disproportionate numbers of classes in high-poverty and high-minority secondary schools being taught by teachers lacking a major or minor in the subject they’re teaching is one that can and must be addressed immediately. “Because of the qualified teacher requirement in the No Child Left Behind Act, states must finally take bold actions – like some of those outlined in this report – to address this problem once and for all,” said Jerald. “It’s simply not fair – to teachers or to students – to assign often otherwise qualified teachers to teach subject areas that do not match their qualifications,” he continued.

Richard M. Ingersoll, the University of Pennsylvania researcher who conducted the analysis for the report, and one of the nation’s foremost experts on measuring teacher qualifications and distribution, noted that, “the good news here is that there’s nothing intractable about this problem. If anything, there is much that can be done by state officials and local administrators right now to fix this situation.”

Main findings of the report include:

  • American secondary schools have unacceptably high rates of out-of-field  teaching in core academic subjects (math, science, social studies and  language arts), with classes in high-poverty and high-minority schools much more likely to be assigned to an out-of-field teacher than classes in low-poverty and low-minority schools (see table on p.8 for national and  state-by-state figures).
  • The nation made no progress reducing out-of-field teaching between 993-94 and 1999-2000, with rates becoming slightly worse overall and the  biggest increases occurring in high-poverty and high-minority schools  (see graph on p. 5).
  • High schools rely far too much on assignment of out-of-field teachers,  but the problem is far worse in the nation’s middle grades, with more than  50% of core academic classes in high-poverty schools being taught by a  teacher lacking a major or minor in the subject, and nearly 50% (49%) of classes in high-minority schools so taught (see graph on p. 6).
  • The rates of out-of-field teacher assignment are particularly high in   mathematics. In fact, about 70% of middle-grade math classes in  high-poverty and high-minority schools nationally are assigned to a  teacher who lacks even a college minor in math or a math-related field  (including math education).
  • States differ widely in their levels of out-of-field teaching, as well as in the extent to which the practice disproportionately affects poor and minority students (see table on p. 8 for national and state-by-state figures).

What’s to be done?

“Given what the research tells us about the importance of teacher quality and the direct impact it has on student achievement, state officials and local administrators can ill afford NOT to change the way they do things. That’s why we’’ve included some clear and powerful action strategies which they could act on immediately,” continued Haycock. “As states, districts and schools rightly work to close the achievement gap between every level must do their part to close the out-of-field teaching gap,” Haycock concluded.

Specifically, the report includes a list of recommendations – along with clear  examples – which states, districts and schools can act on immediately.

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