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


This report began with the statement that a national profile of teacher quality is a necessary tool for tracking our progress toward the goal of providing every child with a high-quality teacher. As suggested, however, providing a national profile of teacher quality is not an easy task. Teacher quality is a complex phenomenon, defined and measured in a variety of ways. An overview of this complexity was provided in the first chapter of this report.

In this study, teacher quality was defined as teachers' preparation and qualifications, as well as the environments in which they work. Teacher quality was measured using a large-scale survey administered to a nationally representative sample of full-time public school teachers. The framework for organizing this report began with a description of different types of full-time public school teacher learning, continued with a consideration of the support teachers receive in their schools and communities, and ended with a discussion of teachers' feelings of preparedness. This was based on the assumption that the preparation of high-quality teachers begins prior to entering their own classrooms (e.g., their formal postsecondary training) and continues once they are on the job (e.g., their participation in professional development activities). In addition, teacher learning and preparation are enhanced in environments that support their learning and work. Finally, teachers' feelings of preparedness were included because they are one important indicator of the extent to which teachers' training has prepared them to meet the challenges that characterize their profession.

Results of the 1998 survey address some of the major concerns regarding teacher quality. The data on preservice learning indicate that full-time public school teachers possess many of the basic prerequisites for teaching-advanced degrees and the appropriate certification and education. For example, virtually all the teachers had a bachelor's degree and about half had a master's degree. Two-thirds of high school teachers and 44 percent of middle school teachers majored in an academic field. Moreover, most of the teachers were fully certified in the field of their main teaching assignment.

Despite the fact that the measure of out-of-field teaching used in this report is conservative-it only includes teachers' main teaching assignments in core fields-the results indicate that a number of educators were teaching out of field. For example, the percent of teachers in grades 9 through 12 who reported having an undergraduate or graduate major or minor in their main teaching assignment field was 90 percent for mathematics teachers, 94 percent for science teachers, and 96 percent for teachers in English/language arts, social studies/social science, and foreign language. This means that 10 percent of mathematics teachers, 6 percent of science teachers, and 4 percent of English/ language arts, foreign language, and social studies/social science teachers in grades 9 through 12 were teaching out of field. The percent of teachers who reported having an undergraduate or graduate major or minor in their main teaching assignment field was significantly lower for teachers of grades 7 through 12 than for teachers of grades 9 through 12 for mathematics (82 percent), science (88 percent), English/language arts (86 percent), and social studies/social sciences (89 percent), indicating that teachers in grades 7 and 8 are less likely to be teaching in field than are teachers in grades 9 through 12.

The data suggest that most teachers participate in activities that provide opportunities for continued learning: almost all teachers had recently participated in at least one formal professional development activity and one teacher collaboration activity. Teachers were more likely to have had professional development on topics that emphasize curricula and pedagogical shifts in education, including the implementation of state or district curricula, the integration of technology into classroom instruction, and the implementation of new teaching methods. Typically, participation in professional development activities lasted 1 to 8 hours. Moreover, increased time spent in an activity was consistently associated with the perception of significant improvements in teaching. Similarly, teachers who participated more frequently in collaborative activities were more likely than those who participated less frequently, or did not participate at all, to report that the experience improved their teaching "a lot."

Results of the 1998 survey suggest that in many respects, teachers work in supportive environments. For example, most teachers reported feelings of support from other teachers and the school administration, and most of them felt that school goals and priorities were clear. However, the data also indicate aspects of teachers' work environments that can be improved. On the issue of providing formal support for teachers during their early years of teaching, the survey found that two-thirds of America's teachers had not participated in an induction program, although participation was higher for new teachers than for more experienced teachers. Moreover, teachers perceived less parental than collegial and school support. For example, one-third of teachers agreed strongly that parents support their work, although higher levels of parental support were perceived by elementary school teachers than high school teachers, and by teachers in schools with the lowest concentration of poverty compared to those with the highest concentration of poverty.

Finally, results presented in this report indicate that although a majority of teachers felt "very well prepared" to manage classrooms, and 41 percent felt very well prepared to implement new teaching methods, relatively few teachers felt very well prepared for other core classroom requirements. In particular, about 20 percent of the teachers felt very well prepared for classroom requirements that have most recently become part of the repertoire of expectations for effective teaching: integrating educational technology, or addressing the needs of students with limited English proficiency or from culturally diverse backgrounds, or those with disabilities.

This national profile of teacher quality provides important information regarding the preparation and qualifications of American teachers-their preservice learning, teaching assignment, opportunities for continued learning, work environment, and feelings of preparedness. However, this study does not address concerns raised by individuals such as Mandel (1996, p. 3-31); that is, that the indicators presented in this report "provide only the most modest threshold of confidence regarding the quality of practice in the nation's schools." In conjunction with the Education Statistics Services Institute (ESSI) and a team of nationally regarded experts, the National Center for Education Statistics is currently involved in developing measures of teaching practices. Future plans may include combining efforts to provide a profile of teacher quality that includes both teacher preparation and qualifications and teaching practices.