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|This article was originally published as the Executive Summary of the Statistical Analysis Report of the same name. The sample survey data are from the 1998 Teacher Survey on Professional Development and Training, conducted through the NCES Fast Response Survey System (FRSS), and from the 1993-94 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS).|
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 in 1998. The report also includes reanalysis of related data from the 1993-94 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS).
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 (Ingersoll 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 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 one of the five core fields (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 work environment) has been identified as fundamental to improving elementary and secondary education (National Commission on Teaching and America's Future 1996). At the core of education 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.
This FRSS survey, conducted in the spring of 1998, indicates that less than half of American teachers currently report feeling "very well prepared" to meet many of these challenges:
Preservice learning and teaching assignment
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 (Ingersoll 1996b). Results of this 1998 FRSS survey indicate that
Continued learning: Professional development and teacher collaboration
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
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Fast Response Survey System, "Teacher Survey on Professional Development and Training," FRSS 65,1998.
Supportive work environment
In addition to teacher learning, a key factor in understanding teacher quality is work environment--that is, what happens to teachers after they enter the workforce, including whether they receive support from the schools and communities in which they work and from the parents of the children they teach. The FRSS survey indicates that
This report provides 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 serve as a benchmark for these important dimensions of teacher quality and preparation.
Fullan, M., with Stiegelbauer, S. (1991). The New Meaning of Educational Change. New York: Teacher's College Press.
Ingersoll, R. (1996a). National Assessments of Teacher Quality (NCES 96-24). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: NCES Working Paper.
Ingersoll, R. (1996b). Out-of-Field Teaching and Educational Equality (NCES 96-040). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
National Commission on Teaching and America's Future. (1996). What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future. New York: Author.
Ravitch, D. (1998, August 10). Lesson Plan for Teachers. The Washington Post, p. A17.
Riley, R. (1998, September 15). The Challenge for America: A High Quality Teacher in Every Classroom. Annual Back to School Address to the National Press Club by the U.S. Secretary of Education. Available: http://www.ed.gov/Speeches/980915.html