In his 1997 State of the Union Address, President Clinton issued a "Call to Action" that included as a priority improving the quality of teachers in every American classroom. President Clinton's speech reflects growing concern over the condition of education and the nation's need for excellent teachers. The nation's educational system must provide our children with the knowledge, information, and skills needed to compete in a complex international marketplace. Good teachers are the hallmark of such an educational system; they are integral to children's intellectual and social development.
In response to these concerns and expectations, this study, undertaken by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), using its Fast Response Survey System (FRSS), provides a profile of the quality of the nation's teachers. Providing such a profile is not an easy task. Teacher quality is a complex phenomenon, and there is little consensus on what it is or how to measure it. For example, definitions range from those that focus on what should be taught and how knowledge should be imparted to the kinds of knowledge and training teachers should possess. There are, however, two broad elements that most observers agree characterize teacher quality: (1) teacher preparation and qualifications, and (2) teaching practices. The first refers to preservice learning (e. g., postsecondary education, certification) and continued learning (e. g., professional development, mentoring). The second refers to the actual behaviors and practices that teachers exhibit in their classrooms (U. S. Department of Education, 1996a). Of course, these elements of teacher quality are not independent; excellent teacher preparation and qualifications should lead to exemplary teaching behaviors and practices.
This FRSS report is based on current NCES efforts to collect data on the first of these elements (i. e., teacher preparation and qualifications), using a nationally representative survey of full-time public school teachers whose main teaching assignment is in English/ language arts, social studies/ social sciences, foreign language, mathematics, or science, or who teach a self-contained classroom. Specifically, it includes indicators of preservice and continued learning (e. g., degrees held, certification, teaching assignment, professional development opportunities, and collaboration with other teachers). In addition, because schools and communities play an important role in shaping and maintaining high-quality teachers, this study examines the work environments in which educators teach (e. g., formal induction procedures for new teachers, parental support).
This report is timely in light of recent concerns over the quality of our educational system and our teachers. Teachers' professional preparation (as well as their working conditions) has been identified as fundamental to improving elementary and secondary education (National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 1996). At the core of educational reforms to raise standards, reshape curricula, and restructure the way schools operate is the call to reconceptualize the practice of teaching. Teachers are being asked to learn new methods of teaching, while at the same time they are facing the greater challenges of rapidly increasing technological changes and greater diversity in the classroom.
The FRSS survey indicates that currently less than half of American teachers report feeling "very well prepared" to meet many of these challenges:
This national profile of teacher preparation, qualifications, and work environments provides a context for understanding why many teachers do not report feeling very well prepared to meet many of the challenges they currently face in their classrooms. Key findings are provided in three major areas: (1) preservice learning and teaching assignment; (2) continued learning; and (3) supportive work environment.
Growing concern that a number of the nation's teachers are underqualified to teach our children has focused attention on their preservice learning. For example, concern regarding preservice learning has been directed toward teachers' postsecondary degrees- that is, the idea that teachers, particularly secondary teachers, should have an academic major rather than a general education degree (Ravitch, 1998). In addition, certification policies have drawn criticism- specifically, that a growing number of the nation's teachers are entering classrooms with emergency or temporary certification (Riley, 1998). Finally, attention is increasingly directed toward teaching assignments- that is, teachers being assigned to teach subjects that do not match their training or education (U. S. Department of Education, 1996b). Results of the 1998 FRSS survey indicate that:
In order to meet the changing demands of their jobs, high-quality teachers must be capable and willing to continuously learn and relearn their trade. Professional development and collaboration with other teachers are strategies for building educators' capacity for effective teaching, particularly in a profession where demands are changing and expanding. However, traditional approaches to professional development (e. g., workshops, conferences) have been criticized for being relatively ineffective because they typically lack connection to the challenges teachers face in their classrooms, and they are usually short term. Research suggests that unless professional development programs are carefully designed and implemented to provide continuity between what teachers learn and what goes on in their classrooms and schools, these activities are not likely to produce any long-lasting effects on either teacher competence or student outcomes (Fullan with Stiegelbauer, 1991). In addition to quality professional development, peer collaboration has also been recognized as important for teachers' continuous learning. The 1998 survey indicates that:
Teachers' work environment is the final aspect of teacher quality addressed in this report. In addition to teacher learning, one key factor to understanding teacher quality is to focus on what happens to teachers once they enter the work force, including if they receive support from the schools and communities in which they work and from the parents of the children they teach. The 1998 FRSS survey indicates that:
The results of this survey provide a national profile of teacher quality, specifically focused on teachers' learning (both preservice and continued) and the environments in which they work. Included is important information regarding teachers' education, certification, teaching assignments, professional development, collaboration, and supportive work environment. In addition, comparisons by instructional level and poverty level of the school provide information about the distribution of teacher quality. This information provides a context for understanding why few teachers report feeling very well prepared to meet the challenges they face in their classrooms. This report is the first in a series of biennial reports that will be undertaken by NCES. Thus, the information provided here should provide a benchmark for these important dimensions of teacher quality and preparation.