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Teacher Quality: A Report on The Preparation and Qualifications of Public School Teachers
NCES: 1999080
January 1999


Every child needs—and deserves—dedicated, outstanding teachers, who know their subject matter, are effectively trained, and know how to teach to high standards and to make learning come alive for students.

President Clinton, September 1996.

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 classroom. President Clinton's speech reflects growing concern over the condition of education and the nation's need for excellent teachers. Now more than ever, success is determined by an individual's ability not only to read and write, but also to frame and solve complex problems and continually learn new skills. The nation's educational system is increasingly being asked to provide our children with the knowledge, information, and skills needed to compete in an increasingly complex international marketplace. Good teachers are the hallmark of such an educational system; they are integral to children's intellectual and social development. Therefore, they must know how to teach in ways that help our children reach high levels of competence.

A national profile of teacher quality is a necessary tool for tracking our progress toward this goal. However, 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. 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. Efforts to collect such data have included diverse methods, such as classroom observations and videotaping, the administration of large-scale surveys, and the collection of artifacts (e. g., teacher logs, homework).

There are, however, two broad elements that characterize teacher quality: teacher preparation and qualifications, and teaching practices. The first refers to preservice learning (e. g., postsecondary education, certification), teaching assignment, continued learning (e. g., professional development, collaboration with other teachers, teaching experience), and general background (e. g., demographics, aptitude, life experience). The second refers to the actual quality of teaching that teachers exhibit in their classrooms (U. S. Department of Education, 1996a). Of course, these two elements of teacher quality are not mutually exclusive; excellent teacher preparation and qualifications are expected to lead to exemplary teaching.

This study is based on current efforts by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to collect data on key indicators of teacher preparation and qualifications, using a large-scale survey administered to a nationally representative sample of full-time, public school teachers whose primary teaching assignment is in English/ language arts, social studies/ social sciences, foreign language, mathematics, or science or who teach a self-contained classroom. Specifically, this report includes indicators of preservice and continued learning (e. g., degrees held, certification, teaching assignment, professional development opportunities, collaboration with other teachers, teaching experience). Because schools and communities play an important role in shaping and maintaining high-quality teachers, this report also examines the work environments in which educators teach (e. g., formal induction procedures for new teachers, class size, parental support).

This report is timely in light of recent concerns about the quality of our educational system and our teachers. Many of these concerns draw attention to such issues as the training and support teachers receive (National Commission on Teaching and America's Future— NCTAF, 1996) and the number of teachers providing instruction outside of their subject-matter fields (U. S. Department of Education, 1996b). As a recent review of the research indicates, teacher qualifications and preparation are important elements of teacher effectiveness and important factors in determining student achievement (National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 1997). This study of teacher quality, conducted using the NCES Fast Response Survey System (FRSS), provides a national profile of the current state of teacher preparation and qualifications for full-time public school teachers, as well as several indicators of their work environment.

The remainder of this chapter is divided into two main sections. The first section describes the current thinking about teacher quality— the many ways it is defined— and concludes with the definition used in this study. The second section describes the current approaches used to measure teacher quality and concludes with a discussion of the measurement approach used in this study.

Teacher Quality: How Has It Been Defined?

Teaching Practices | Teacher Preparation and Qualifications | Supportive Working Conditions | The Definition of Teacher Quality Used in This Report

Perhaps the most traditional approach to characterizing teacher quality is the "expert teacher study," which focuses on teachers who have been identified as successful by their administrators or peers. This field of research is rich in detail, describing how successful teachers connect what they know with how they teach. For example, researchers have found that expert teachers use knowledge about the children in their classrooms— their backgrounds, strengths, and weaknesses— to create lessons that connect new subject matter to students' experiences (Leinhardt, 1989; Westerman, 1991). They also use this knowledge to adapt their teaching to accommodate children who learn in different ways. Expert teachers know how to recognize children experiencing difficulties, diagnose sources of problems in their learning, and identify strengths on which to build. This skill is particularly important because a growing number of students with a wider range of learning needs (i. e., students whose first language is not English and students with learning differences and disabilities) are entering and staying in school.

One strength of the expert teacher research is that it relies on intuitive logic, which supports the belief that it is possible to identify good teachers by observing them and that, once identified, the teachers' strengths can be determined and recorded. This body of research also confirms what many people envision a high-quality teacher to be— someone who understands children and knows how to assist their learning. For example, the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC, 1995) established 10 key principles it believes to be central tenets of effective teaching. The principles state that teachers should be able to understand their subject matter and relate it to students, adopt teaching strategies that are responsive to different learners, employ diverse instructional strategies, establish proper assessment tools to measure student development, and engage in continual curriculum evaluation and professional development (INTASC Core Standards).

However, aside from such broad notions of teacher quality, there is little consensus regarding its precise definition (Stodolsky, 1996). That is, there is no single answer to the question "What qualifications and practices characterize high-quality teachers?" There are many different and sometimes conflicting views of what constitutes a good teacher. These views, as discussed below, address not only teaching practices, but also teacher preparation and qualifications as well as the school environments where teachers work.
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Teaching Practices. The disagreement over basic skills versus complex thinking approaches to instruction is one example of the key disputes currently surrounding definitions of high-quality teaching practice. Although viewing these techniques as opposing approaches represents a simplification of the issue, these two instructional methods do illustrate the extremes of the current debate.

The first form of instruction traditionally has been conceptualized as the transmission of facts to students, who are seen as passive receptors. In classrooms where this type of teaching predominates, teachers typically conduct lessons through a lecture format, instruct the entire class as a unit, write notes on the chalkboard, and pass out worksheets for students to complete. In such classrooms, knowledge is presented as fact. This is the type of instruction with which most Americans are familiar. By contrast, in classrooms characterized by higher order tasks, typically described as "constructivist," students are encouraged to pose hypotheses and to explore ways to test them. They are encouraged to weigh information from these "tests" with previous experiences or understanding of the topic. Students then "construct" a new understanding of subject matter. Although many recent school reform efforts advocate such innovative instruction (e. g., Coalition of Essential Schools— Sizer, 1992; National Association of Secondary School Principals and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching— NASSP, 1996), there is much debate regarding the use and implementation of such instructional techniques. For example, opposition may come from parents and teachers who hold more traditional views of teaching and learning. Moreover, the concerns of parents, teachers, and students about access to colleges— which is based, in part, on high performance on standardized tests of recognized skills and facts— may discourage the use of innovative instructional techniques (Talbert and McLaughlin, 1993). Studies of these constructivist teaching methods have been limited because such instruction has only recently been implemented. The existing studies typically use classroom observation in a limited number of settings.
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Teacher Preparation and Qualifications. As with teaching practices, there is debate surrounding the preparation and qualifications that characterize high-quality teachers. Compared to other fields, disputes and ambiguities regarding the knowledge base and competence required of professionals are particularly striking in teaching (Sykes, 1990). There is little dispute that teachers ought to have a postsecondary education and possess strong knowledge of the subjects they teach, but beyond this there is some disagreement about what individuals need to know and be able to do in order to teach effectively. Moreover, as researchers struggle to quantify teacher preparation and qualifications, some critics feel that studies of teachers' credentials and knowledge do not provide enough information about teacher quality— that is, indicators of teacher preparation and qualifications do not directly address the actual quality of instructional practices. As these debates are highlighted in the paragraphs that follow, however, it is important to note that there are some well-established indicators of teacher preparation and qualifications that do inform researchers, policymakers, and education consumers.

During an NCES conference presentation, David Mandel (1996, p. 3-31), former Vice President for Policy Development at the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, stated:

         What is known is the type of education credentials teachers
         have accumulated and the type of state licenses they have
         been granted. This information has proven useful in gaining
         a rough sense of how well-prepared teachers are to take on
         the assignments they are handed... But such data, even when
         positive, provide only the most modest threshold of confidence
         regarding the quality of practice in the nation's schools.

Other researchers agree that understanding teacher preparation and qualifications requires more than determining whether or not a teacher has a degree or certification. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards describes teaching as a complex skill involving multiple talents (NBPTS, 1998). Ballou and Podgursky (1997, 1998) raise important measurement issues in their discussion of ways in which to attract "brighter" individuals into the teaching pool. In this discussion, they insist that flexibility in certification and personnel policies facilitates the entry of talented individuals into teaching. The implication of their argument is that extensive formal training may not necessarily create good teachers. The authors suggest that talented individuals may be less likely to remain in teacher training programs that require extended commitment; they may be more likely to seek more lucrative professions. According to their logic, extended formal training does not necessarily reflect teacher quality. It is important to note, however, the other side of the debate; that is, in addition to talent and subject-matter knowledge, prospective teachers must also be trained to teach children (NCTAF, 1996).
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Supportive Working Conditions. In addition to teacher preparation and qualifications and teaching practice, investigations of teacher quality have included studies of what happens to teachers once they enter the workforce. This perspective stems from the premise that classrooms and schools become effective when talented people are teaching in workplaces that are stimulating and rewarding (Fullan with Stiegelbauer, 1991). In order to promote high-quality teaching that will in turn produce high-quality learning, teachers need support from the schools and communities in which they work (including such issues as induction programs for new teachers and the number of students for whom teachers are responsible) and support from the parents of the children they teach.

Class size. Although the research on class size is somewhat mixed— some research studies suggest positive effects of reduced class size, others suggest little effect— it seems reasonable to assume that smaller class size may facilitate teachers' work. In order for teachers to become "experts" as defined by the expert— teacher literature, it is important for them to truly know and understand the children in their classrooms, which clearly would be easier if there were fewer children. Some of the research on class size supports this logic. For example, studies of Tennessee's Project STAR indicate that students in smaller classes (13-17 students) significantly outperformed students in larger classes (22-25 students) on achievement tests in mathematics and reading (Finn and Achilles, 1990; Word et al., 1990). Ferguson (1990) reported similar findings in Texas; classes enrolling more than 18 students were associated with lower reading and math test scores for grades 1-7. To explain the class size effects, researchers have cited the smaller number of disruptions, the increased teacher attention for students, and the increased opportunity for student participation in smaller classrooms (Achilles, 1996). Other researchers argue that reducing class size has little or no effect on student performance. In an examination of trend data from the 1950s to 1986, Tomlinson (U. S. Department of Education, 1988) did not find a consistent relationship between class size and standardized test scores. Moreover, based on a review of the literature, Odden (1990) argued that class size reduction produces only modest gains in student achievement and does not justify the cost of implementing such reform.

Induction of new teachers. Research has found that the attrition rates of new teachers are five times higher than those of their more experienced counterparts (Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation, 1997). In order to introduce beginning teachers into the profession with support and guidance, many districts have implemented formal induction programs. These programs can have two goals: to assist beginning teachers with instruction and to prepare them to meet state certification requirements. A key feature of many programs is the mentoring aspect— the pairing of an experienced teacher with a new teacher. Responsibilities of the mentor may include providing guidance on curriculum, classroom management, and assessment (Galvez-Hjornevik, 1986). It is expected that mentoring relationships play a critical role in the support, training, and retention of new teachers (King and Bey, 1995). Therefore, by easing the transition into fulltime teaching, formal induction programs provide new practitioners with skills and support structures to develop effective teaching practices. It is important to note that in addition to formal induction of new teachers, there are many important avenues for informal induction (e. g., team teaching, common planning time and other activities which results in informal collaboration between new and experienced teachers).

Parental support. An extensive body of research has found what many parents and educators already know— children prosper when their parents are actively involved in their education. Research has shown that support from families, including greater family involvement in children's learning, is a critical factor leading to a high-quality education (U. S. Department of Education, 1994a). Policymakers have tapped into this important resource; for example, the National Education Goals included parental involvement in children's education as a top priority. Clearly, teachers' jobs are easier when parents work with them rather than against them. For this reason, parental support is an important feature of teachers' work environment.
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The Definition of Teacher Quality Used in This Report.
The previous discussion underscores the complex and sometimes controversial nature of defining teacher quality. Two main elements were discussed— teacher preparation and qualifications, and teaching practices. The definition used in this report is based on the former rather than the latter. Teachers' professional preparation (as well as their working conditions) has been identified as fundamental to improving elementary and secondary education (Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy, 1986; Holmes Group, 1986; NCTAF, 1996). Policymakers today are especially interested in the training and education teachers receive in the subject areas they teach; high-quality teacher preparation and qualifications are expected to lead to high-quality teaching. For these reasons, a national profile of teacher preparation and qualifications provides important information about the quality of America's teachers.

Decisions regarding how to define teacher quality have implications for the method researchers use to measure it. For example, teaching practices are increasingly measured through classroom observation. Teacher preparation and qualifications are often measured through large-scale surveys. The following section discusses the various ways teacher quality has been measured. Included is a discussion of the definition(s) typically associated with each measurement approach.

Teacher Quality: How Has It Been Studied?

Classroom Observation | Teacher Testing | Student Achievement Tests | Large-Scale Surveys | The Measurement Approach Used in This Report

Just as definitions about teacher quality differ, so do the ways in which it has been studied. Conventional approaches to measuring teacher quality have typically taken four forms: (1) classroom observations of teacher practices; (2) written examinations of teachers measuring their basic literacy, subject-matter knowledge, and pedagogical skills; (3) student performance and achievement; and (4) large-scale surveys of teacher qualifications, attitudes, behaviors, and practices. It is important to note that studies of teacher qualifications or practices are not always driven by theories of what constitutes a good teacher. Sometimes such indicators are developed to answer specific policy questions. As described below, different approaches to measuring teacher qualifications or practices are based on different conceptions of what it means to be a high-quality teacher or on the specific needs or interests of policymakers.
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Classroom Observation. Observational research has a long and growing history in the field of education. Classroom observation, as well as the collection of artifacts (e. g., teacher logs, homework) and information from interviews, has been employed to document teaching practices generally and to assess teaching quality specifically. Observation, as used by school systems for evaluation purposes, has been strongly criticized as having the following problems: limited competence of principals, teacher resistance and apathy, lack of uniformity within school systems, and inadequate training of evaluators (Wise et al., 1984). Principals often experience role conflict as they try to serve as both evaluators and instructional leaders, and they tend to lack expertise in specialized subject-matter areas, especially at the secondary school level (Stodolsky, 1984).

Using observational data to document teaching practices is less controversial than using it to assess individual teachers for purposes of salary increase, tenure, or recertification. Observational studies, often combined with interviews or teacher logs, include investigations of teachers' pedagogical content knowledge and reasoning (Ball and Wilson, 1996) and the connections between education policy and teacher practices (Ball, 1990; Cohen, 1990; Peterson, 1990), professional development and teaching (Ball, 1996), and subject matter and curricular activity (Stodolsky and Grossman, 1995).

Observational data provide rich detail and in-depth information. As such, observation is typically used to provide a detailed picture of classroom instruction in a limited number of classrooms. Because collecting such data is costly, this approach is rarely used to provide a national profile of instruction. However, NCES is involved in an effort to provide such a profile. The Videotape Classroom Study, part of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), consists of videotaped lessons in 231 eighth grade mathematics classrooms in the United States, Germany, and Japan. The report of the video study includes general findings regarding international differences in how lessons are structured and delivered, what kind of mathematics is presented, and the kinds of mathematical thinking in which students are engaged (U. S. Department of Education, 1998a).
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Teacher Testing. Standardized tests, such as the National Teacher Examinations (NTE), have been used to measure teachers' basic knowledge and skills (e. g., basic literacy, number skills, subject-matter knowledge in particular areas). Teacher test scores have then been linked to student test scores. Ferguson (1990) found that teachers' scores on a test of basic literacy skills were significantly correlated with their students' test scores. Results are typically used to determine whether to grant temporary or permanent certification, and occasionally for continuation of tenured teachers.

While most experts agree that having basic subject knowledge is an important prerequisite to effective teaching, critics maintain that it is not a sufficient indication of the range of knowledge and skills needed to instruct and manage groups of children. They argue that this approach does not provide a complete picture of teacher quality. These tests only measure teachers' basic knowledge and not their pedagogical knowledge or their teaching practice. In response, organizations such as the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium, and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards have undertaken efforts to develop new systems of teacher assessment that feature "standards-based assessments." One example of the new generation of teacher examinations is the Professional Assessments for Beginning Teachers, the PRAXIS series, currently being developed by the Educational Testing Service as a replacement for NTE. The PRAXIS series consists of three types of assessments: (1) a computerized test of basic literacy and numeracy skills; (2) a paper-and-pencil test of subject-matter knowledge and general pedagogical principles; and (3) an observational assessment of classroom teaching performance. The PRAXIS series is meant to assess potential and practicing teachers at different times during their training and practice (e. g., admitting candidates into teacher education programs and awarding initial and ongoing certification). In addition, many states have developed their own assessments as a basic prerequisite for teaching. These assessments can take the form of written tests, which may measure basic skills, subject matter or knowledge of teaching methods, and performance evaluations, which could consist of portfolio evaluation or classroom observation (CCSSO, 1998).

Such efforts have grown out of the recent push to identify standards for teacher and student performance. These kinds of assessments go beyond paper-and-pencil tests to include portfolio assessment and in-person testing, which incorporate pedagogy, content knowledge, and role-play/ interactive sessions. Teachers may also be required to submit examples of their work through videotapes and lesson plans. Teachers are asked to analyze teaching situations and defend teaching decisions based on knowledge of subject, students, curriculum, and pedagogy.
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Student Achievement Tests. Many would argue that the bottom line of whether teachers (and schools) are effective is whether their students are successful. The use of student achievement test score gains to assess teachers, rather than educational systems, however, has received substantial criticism (U. S. Department of Education, 1996a). Specifically, social scientists have argued that it is very difficult to separate out the portion of student achievement gains that can be reliably attributed to an individual teacher. Numerous factors affect student achievement over the course of a school year in addition to his or her teacher: home background, student personality, attendance, school and community resources, and the peer group have all been demonstrated to affect how much students learn. In addition, critics have argued that standardized achievement tests assess minimum levels of student competence and are often limited to the kinds of knowledge that can be captured with multiple-choice formats.
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Large-Scale Surveys.
National surveys of teachers have been used to provide quantifiable indicators of teacher quality. Typically, teachers have been asked to provide information on attributes such as their educational background, major and minor fields of study, certification, and professional development experiences. Such indicators have sometimes been linked to student test scores. For example, Ferguson (1990) found that the students of teachers with master's degrees had higher test scores in grades 1-7.

Over the years, there have been many efforts by NCES and others to use large-survey methodology to describe teaching— and, more generally, to capture what happens in classrooms. Examples of recent efforts can be found in School Policies and Practices Affecting Instruction in Mathematics (U. S. Department of Education, 1998b), America's Teachers: Profile of a Profession, 1993-1994 (U. S. Department of Education, 1997), Toward Better Teaching Professional Development in 1993-94 (U. S. Department of Education, 1998c), and What Happens in Classrooms? Elementary and Secondary School Instruction, 1994-95 (U. S. Department of Education, forthcoming). These data notwithstanding, social scientists agree that existing surveys on these topics leave room for improvement. Important work continues in areas such as curriculum content, but new tools must be developed before large-scale differences in instructional and classroom practices can be reliably reported.
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The Measurement Approach Used in This Report.
The qualities deemed relevant to effective teaching, the goals of the assessor, and the resources available all contribute to the choice of assessment. The measurement approach adopted in this report is a large-scale survey administered to a representative sample of American teachers. Such a survey is particularly appropriate for providing a national profile of teacher preparation, qualifications, professional development, and school and parental support. Providing a picture of our nation's teachers is important in tracking trends of teacher preparedness and professional experiences.

Because of constraints on teacher time and resources, there are few national reports of this kind. Instead, many national reports have compiled data from a variety of sources to make conclusions about the status of education in America. Only the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), conducted by NCES on a regular basis, collects data from both teachers and schools on numerous aspects of teacher quality. SASS indicators of teacher quality include recruitment, teacher preparation, induction programs, teaching assignment (e. g., committee work, in-and out-of-field teaching), resources (e. g., class size, planning time), and professional development opportunities. However, the last SASS was conducted in 1993-94, and the next one will not be fielded until 1999-2000. The need for up-to-date, nationally representative data on the nation's teaching force prompted this Fast Response Survey on Professional Development and Training in 1998. In addition to presenting current findings on teacher quality from the 1998 FRSS survey, this report draws comparisons between the FRSS findings and findings from comparable questions on NCES' 1993-94 SASS. The comparisons provide some information about trends over the 4-year period. See appendix A for a discussion of the comparisons between the surveys. Both surveys are described in more detail below.

1998 FRSS Survey. The Teacher Survey on Professional Development and Training was conducted through the NCES FRSS during spring 1998. FRSS is a survey system designed to collect small amounts of issue-oriented data with minimal burden on respondents and within a relatively short timeframe. Questionnaires (see appendix E) were mailed to a nationally representative sample of 4,049 full-time teachers in regular public elementary, middle, and high schools in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The sample was designed to represent full-time public school teachers in grades 1 through 12 whose main teaching assignment was in English/ language arts, social studies/ social sciences, foreign language, mathematics, or science, or who taught a self-contained classroom. Part-time, itinerant, and substitute teachers were excluded, as were teachers whose main teaching assignment was in another subject area (e. g., art, special education). Data have been weighted to national estimates. All comparative statements made in this report have been tested for statistical significance using chi-square tests or t-tests adjusted for multiple comparisons using the Bonferroni adjustment and are significant at the 0.05 level or better. Appendix A provides a detailed discussion of the sample and survey methodology. 1

1993-94 Schools and Staffing Survey. Since 1987-88, NCES has periodically conducted the SASS, an integrated survey of public and private schools, school districts, principals, and teachers. Most recently conducted in 1993-94, it provides a comprehensive picture of the school workforce and teacher supply and demand. Included on the public school teacher survey are several items on teacher training and professional development. Some of the items are similar, although not identical, to the items on the FRSS survey (see appendix F). Data from the similar items on the 1993-94 SASS teacher survey were reanalyzed for a subset of schools and teachers that are approximately the same as the schools and teachers sampled for the FRSS survey. 2  Results are incorporated into the discussion of the FRSS data where appropriate. 3  Because the SASS data were reanalyzed in this way, the estimates that appear in this report differ from SASS data published in other National Center for Education Statistics reports.

Organization of this Report

The preparation of high-quality teachers stems from the many experiences and opportunities that they face, both prior to and during their teaching careers. For all teachers, learning begins before entering their own classrooms. Among their learning experiences is the formal postsecondary training they undergo in order to become educators. This includes college work and certification. Once on the job, teachers have many additional opportunities to learn— ranging from the general learning that comes from years of work experience to more structured opportunities in the form of formal professional development activities. Not surprisingly, teacher learning and preparation are enhanced in environments that support their learning and their work. This discussion suggests one useful model for thinking about teacher quality; it begins with different types of teacher learning and ends with the support teachers receive to pursue continued learning.

Using this model of teacher quality, the results sections of this report first address teacher learning (both preservice and on the job), as well as the working conditions to which teachers are exposed; these sections then examine the extent to which teachers feel themselves prepared to meet the challenges they face in their classrooms. The results of the 1998 survey and comparisons between the 1998 and 1993-94 surveys are divided into four chapters corresponding directly to the four main topics investigated in this FRSS report: (1) preservice learning and teaching assignment; (2) continued learning; (3) supportive work environment; and (4) teachers' feelings of preparedness. Conclusions are provided in the final chapter of this report.

1 Detailed tables for the FRSS survey are in appendix B. Tables of standard errors for the text tables and figures are in appendix D.

2 Public school teachers targeted in the 1993-94 SASS study for comparison to the 1998 FRSS study are full-time public school teachers in grades 1 through 12 whose main teaching assignment was in English/language arts, social studies/social sciences, foreign language, mathematics, science, or general elementary.

3 Detailed tables for the SASS items are presented in appendix C.