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Out-of-Field Teaching

Out-of-field teaching refers to a mismatch between teacher qualifications and their teaching assignments. A recent NCES report used data from the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) to examine trends in out-of-field teaching over a 13-year period (1987-88 through 1999-2000). Table 1 indicates the percentage of public school students taught by teachers without a major and certification in the subject area.1 Table 2 indicates the percentage of public school students taught by teachers without a major, minor, or certification in the subject area.

Teachers Without a Major and Certification


Table 1. Percentage of public school students taught by teachers with no major and no certification in the course subject area, by grade levels: 1987-88 and 1999-2000


  Middle grades High school grades
  No major and certification No major and certification
Subject field 1987-1988 1999-2000 1987-1988 1999-2000
English 64.6 58.3 38.2 29.8
Foreign language -- 60.7 -- 47.6
Mathematics 69.9 68.5 37.4 31.4
Science 62.4 57.2 31.4 27.3
    Biology/life science 70.0 64.2 47.7 44.7
    Physical science 92.9 93.2 70.2 63.1
        Chemistry -- -- 62.9 61.1
        Geology/earth/space science -- -- 83.2 78.6
        Physics -- -- 81.6 66.5
Social science 48.3 51.1 33.7 27.9
    History 67.5 71.0 62.1 62.5
ESL/bilingual education 80.5 72.9 88.7 70.8
Arts and music 15.1 15.0 15.7 19.6
Physical education 22.2 18.9 24.8 19.1

-- Not available.
NOTE: Middle level teachers include teachers who taught students in grades 5-9 and did not teach any students in grades 10-12; teachers who taught in grades 5-9 who identified themselves as elementary or special education teachers were classified as elementary teachers. High school teachers include all teachers who taught any of grades 10-12, as well as teachers who taught grade 9 and no other grades. Not all assignment areas were measured in each SASS administration. See SOURCE for notes and definition of terms.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Qualifications of the Public School Teacher Workforce: Prevalence of Out-of-Field Teaching, 1987–88 to 1999–2000, NCES 2002–603, by Marilyn McMillen Seastrom, Kerry J. Gruber, Robin Henke, Daniel J. McGrath, and Benjamin A. Cohen. Washington, DC: 2002.

Middle Grades—Grades 5-8. In the 1999-2000 school year, at least two-thirds of the students in middle-grade mathematics classes (69 percent) and ESL/bilingual education classes (73 percent) had teachers who did not report a major and certification in the subject taught.2 Approximately 60 percent of the students in middle-grade English classes (58 percent), foreign language classes (61 percent), and science classes (57 percent) had a teacher who did not report a major and certification in the subject taught. In contrast, fewer students enrolled in classes in arts and music and in classes in physical education and health had teachers who did not hold a major and certification in the field taught. Over the 13-year period from school year 1987-88 to school year 1999-2000, there were decreases in the percent of middle-grade English teachers who did not hold certification and a major in the subject taught.

High School—Grades 9-12. In the 1999-2000 school year, one-third or fewer of the high school students in English, mathematics, science, social science, arts and music, and physical education/health education classes had teachers who did not have a major and certification in the subject taught. In contrast, 71 percent of the high school students in ESL/bilingual education classes had teachers who did not have a major and certification in ESL/bilingual education. And 48 percent of the students in foreign language classes had teachers who did not have a major and certification in the specific language taught.

Despite the relatively small amount of out-of-field teaching evident in the general fields of science and social science in school year 1999-2000, percentages were much higher for each specific subfield. For example, about 63 percent of the high school students in physical science classes had teachers who did not have certification and a major in some area of physical science. Over the 13-year period from school year 1987-88 to school 1999-2000 the percentage of students in classes led by teachers who did not have an in-field major and certification decreased in several course subject areas, including English, mathematics, and social sciences.

Teachers without a Major, Minor, or Certification


Table 2. Percentage of public school students taught by teachers without a Major, Minor, or Certification in the course subject area, by grade levels: 1987-88 and 1999-2000


  Middle grades High school grades
  No major, minor, or certification No major, minor, or certification
Subject field 1987-1988 1999-2000 1987-1988 1999-2000
English 19.5 17.4 13.0 5.6
Foreign language -- 13.8 -- 11.1
Mathematics 17.2 21.9 11.1 8.6
Science 16.3 14.2 8.1 5.5
    Biology/life science 32.9 28.8 9.3 9.7
    Physical Science 43.0 40.5 30.9 15.5
       Chemistry -- -- 16.8 9.4
       Geology/earth/space science -- -- 50.9 36.3
       Physics -- -- 40.3 17.0
Social science 12.7 13.3 7.5 5.9
   History 15.2 11.5 13.0 8.4
ESL/bilingual education 41.2 36.1 54.4 31.1
Arts and music 2.0 2.5 3.3 5.0
Physical education 5.8 3.4 5.6 4.5

-- Not available.
NOTE: Middle level teachers include teachers who taught students in grades 5-9 and did not teach any students in grades 10-12; teachers who taught in grades 5-9 who identified themselves as elementary or special education teachers were classified as elementary teachers. High school teachers include all teachers who taught any of grades 10-12, as well as teachers who taught grade 9 and no other grades. Not all assignment areas were measured in each SASS administration. See SOURCE for notes and definition of terms.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Qualifications of the Public School Teacher Workforce: Prevalence of Out-of-Field Teaching, 1987–88 to 1999–2000, NCES 2002–603, by Marilyn McMillen Seastrom, Kerry J. Gruber, Robin Henke, Daniel J. McGrath, and Benjamin A. Cohen. Washington, DC: 2002.

Middle Grades—Grades 5-8. In school year 1999-2000, between 11 and 22 percent of the students enrolled in English, mathematics, science, foreign language, social science, and the subfield of history were in classes led by teachers without a major, minor, or certification in the subject taught, compared to less than 5 percent of the middle-grade students in arts and music and in physical education/health education classes. In contrast, between 29 and 40 percent of the middle-grade students enrolled in biology/life science, physical science, or ESL/bilingual education classes had teachers who lacked a major, minor, or certification in the subject taught. Although there was a decrease in the percent of middle-grade students in physical education/health education classes that were led by teachers without any of these credentials, between school years 1987-88 and 1999-2000, there was no measurable change between these school years in the percent of middle-grade teachers lacking credentials in any of the other subjects examined.

High School—Grades 9-12. In the 1999-2000 school year, between 5 and 7 percent of the high school students enrolled in English, science, social science, arts and music, and physical education/health education classes, 9 percent of the high school students enrolled in mathematics, and 11 percent of the high school students enrolled in foreign language classes were in classes led by teachers without a major, minor, or certification. In contrast, 31 percent of the students in ESL/bilingual education classes had teachers who did not have a major, minor or certification in the field.

The percent of high school students enrolled in classes with teachers without an in-field major, minor, or certification in English, mathematics, social science (including the subfield history), ESL/bilingual education, science (including physical sciences (as a group), and the specific subfields of chemistry, geology, and physics) decreased between school years 1987-88 and 1999-2000. The only increase in high school students’ exposure to teachers lacking the specified credentials occurred in arts and music.


1 Since SASS is a sample of teachers rather than students, technically the measure is the percentage of teachers' students who are in classes with a teacher teaching outside their field. For ease of presentation, it is referred to here as the percentage of students who are in classes with a teacher teaching outside their field.

2 This analysis is limited to those students in the middle grades who are in a departmentalized setting; student counts are not available for individual self-contained classrooms. In addition, the matches for foreign language and arts and music require exact matches between teacher training and courses taught.

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National Center for Education Statistics - http://nces.ed.gov
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