Policy Brief: Teaching Quality
Efforts at Improvement
No one disputes that quality teaching is a critical
component of student success—teachers’ knowledge,
skill, and dedication affect their students’ achievement
dramatically. Unfortunately, quality teaching is unevenly
distributed, with high-minority and high-poverty schools
being staffed by less educated, less experienced teachers.
In order to give every student an equal opportunity
to learn, we must direct resources toward policies that
can increase quality teaching across the board, including
improving teacher preparation and professional development,
restructuring teacher compensation, and paying special
attention to hard-to-staff schools.
Quality Teaching and Student Achievement
Numerous studies demonstrate the strong link between
quality teaching and academic achievement.
A 2000 report
by Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University found
that “measures of teacher preparation and certification
are by far the strongest correlates of student achievement
in reading and mathematics, both before and after
controlling for student poverty and language status.”
1998, researchers for the National Bureau of Economic
that teacher effectiveness is the most influential
variable affecting student achievement.
In 1996, William Sanders and Joan Rivers of the University
of Tennessee found
that test scores of two similar groups of second-graders
were separated by as many as 50 percentile points
by the time the students reached fifth grade, solely
because of differences in teacher effectiveness. The
researchers also found that as teacher effectiveness
increases, lower-achieving students are the first
Understanding Quality Teaching
While researchers concur that quality teaching is
key to student success, agreeing on what makes for effective
instruction is more difficult. However, researchers
have identified several factors that likely contribute
to quality teaching.
Subject matter knowledge – Teachers must have
at least basic competence in the material they are
teaching, especially in secondary schools, where subject-specific
curricula are more demanding. According to How
Teaching Matters, a 2000 Educational Testing
Service report, students whose math and science teachers
had relevant college majors performed 39% above grade
level on average.
Knowledge of teaching and learning – Although
the need for solid content knowledge is obvious, teachers’
classroom skills and understanding of the learning
process are even more clearly linked to student success.
In a 2000 research
review, Darling-Hammond cites several studies
confirming that teachers’ education coursework
and professional development correlate strongly with
Teaching experience – Darling-Hammond also reports
that teachers with less than three years of experience
are less effective than more senior teachers, although
the benefits of experience do seem to level off after
about five years.
Disparities in Quality Teaching
Many schools in high-poverty inner-city or rural areas
have trouble recruiting and retaining highly qualified
teachers. Researchers have concluded that disparities
in teacher quality among schools of varying student
populations are severe enough to create and maintain
massive achievement gaps.
According to the National Council for Education Statistics
Condition of Education Report, schools with high
percentages of minority, low-income, and limited-English-proficient
students are more likely to employ beginning teachers.
A 2002 report
by the Education Trust found that while out-of-field
teaching is a widespread problem, students in high-poverty
schools are 77% more likely to be assigned an out-of-field
teacher than students in more affluent schools. Classes
in high-minority schools are 40% more likely to be
assigned an out-of-field teacher.
Condition of Education Report showed that teachers
with master’s degrees were less likely to teach
in high-poverty, high-minority schools.
Reasons for this problem may include:
Economic factors – Schools
located in economically depressed areas are forced
to offer relatively low salaries and benefits.
Geographic undesirability –
Teachers may be reluctant to live in isolated rural
areas with few amenities.
Perceived challenge – Teachers
may believe jobs in low-performing, under-resourced
schools will be too challenging, frustrating, or unsatisfying.
Teacher attrition – The same
conditions that deter teachers from jobs in high-poverty,
high-minority schools also increase rates of teacher
turnover. The National
Commission on Teaching and America’s Future
in 2003 that the turnover rate for teachers in high-poverty
schools is nearly one-third higher than the overall
There are three main strategies to ensure that all
students, including those in high-poverty and high-minority
schools, have access to quality teaching. First, worthwhile
teacher-preparation programs must prepare teachers to
enter the classroom. Second, all teachers must have
access to ongoing, effective professional development.
Finally, the education community must consider the special
needs of hard-to-staff schools, and come up with creative
ways to recruit and retain high-quality teachers for
In 2001, researchers from Michigan State University
completed a report
for the U.S. Department of Education summarizing the
current research on teacher preparation. The study’s
authors conclude that while “overall, the research
base concerning teacher preparation is relatively thin,”
studies do show a positive connection between effective
teacher preparation and performance in the classroom.
Teachers agree that field experience is critical to
success in the classroom, and most believe teacher preparation
programs don’t provide enough of it. In a 2000
Agenda, 56% of teachers polled said their training
put too much emphasis on the theory and philosophy of
education, and not enough on dealing with the practical
challenges of teaching. Only 30% of respondents said
their training involved enough experience in actual
Another important concern is the amount of in-depth
subject-matter knowledge teachers acquire during their
training. A 2000 report
by the Educational
Testing Service found that prospective teachers
in universities with large percentages of education
majors and minors score lower on the Praxis II licensure
examination than prospective teachers in schools that
put less emphasis on pedagogical training. According
to the authors, this finding indicates that some education
schools may “place too great an emphasis on knowledge
of pedagogy, potentially at the expense of knowledge
of the subject matter to be taught.”
States and teacher education programs have responded
to these problems in a variety of ways:
In 1999, Colorado
passed legislation that withdrew state approval for
existing teacher preparation programs and required
the programs to reapply under new performance-based
standards. These standards strengthen requirements
for subject-matter knowledge, field experience, and
the ability to teach to state standards and assessments.
The measure also created “teacher-in-residence”
programs that provide on-the-job training for college
graduates without backgrounds in education.
In 1998, the Georgia
Board of Regents adopted a program of 10
Principles and Actions for the Preparation of Educators
for the Schools. The principles hold teacher preparation
programs accountable for their graduates’ performance
on state licensure exams. They also require the state
university system to “guarantee” the quality
of any teacher it prepares by agreeing to provide
remedial instruction to ineffective recent graduates.
a similar law.
rigorous two-year teacher induction program, Beginning
Educator Support and Training, assigns trained mentors
to beginning teachers and offers seminars and workshops
designed to hone their skills. At the end of the two
years, teachers must submit an extensive portfolio
project and earn a passing grade to be certified.
Teacher Support and Assessment program also includes
one-on-one mentoring for new teachers.
In recent years, hundreds of colleges of education
have created five-year degree programs that allow
more in-depth subject matter study and more clinical
training in schools. Several studies
have shown that because graduates of five-year programs
have higher retention rates than traditional graduates,
extended programs actually reduce the overall cost
of preparing career teachers.
Many states have taken steps to link preschool, K-12,
and postsecondary education in a cohesive way. These
efforts, often called P-16
initiatives, promise to improve teacher preparation
by providing practice teaching sites and familiarizing
prospective teachers with state learning standards.
The programs also aim to improve student achievement
and increase access to college by clarifying what
students must know to move onto the next level and
by ensuring that curricula and assessments point toward
Even well-prepared teachers need continuous training
to stay effective. Professional development can expose
instructors to new teaching methods and pedagogical
research, help them stay on top of state performance
standards, and teach them to incorporate technology
into the curriculum. Unfortunately, traditional methods
of professional development—typically one-day
workshops on isolated topics—have proven unhelpful
for most teachers. Current research on high-quality
professional development suggests that a more integrated
approach is necessary to improve teaching quality.
Staff Development Council has developed a set of
guidelines for evaluating professional development programs.
According to an article
published by the NSDC, some of the groups recommendations
clear and high standards for the learning of all students
and then focusing on the changes in practice required
to achieve these goals.
in teacher learning, ideally allocating at least 10
percent of schools’ budgets to staff development.
all teachers in the continuous, intellectually rigorous
study of the content they teach and the ways they
opportunities for professional learning and collaborating
with colleagues in the daily schedule of teachers.
NSDC advocates that at least 25 percent of teachers'
time be devoted to their own learning. Schools should
schedule more time for collaborating with colleagues.
teachers with classroom assessment and other action
research skills that allow them to determine on a
regular basis if student learning has been improved
because of their new knowledge and skills.
Recruitment and Retention in Hard-to-Staff Schools
As noted above, high-poverty and high-minority schools
tend to lack the resources necessary to recruit and
retain highly qualified teachers. However, researchers
have suggested several possible approaches to the problem
of hard-to-staff schools.
to recruit nontraditional teaching candidates—such
as mid-career professionals, retired military personal,
and high-achieving college students—have been
able to augment traditional sources of new hires.
One program that has experienced documented success
is the DeWitt
Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund’s Pathways
to Teaching Careers Program. From 1989 to 2000,
the Pathways program recruited paraprofessionals,
uncertified teachers, and returned Peace Corps volunteers
to teach at high-need schools across the country.
The program provided recruits with a rigorous teacher
preparation curriculum tailored to their needs and
supported them while they pursue degrees and teaching
certificates. A 2001 evaluation
of the program by the Urban
Institute concluded that the program exceeded
its recruitment goals and that Pathways graduates
were perceived by their principals as more effective
than the typical beginning teacher in their schools.
Moreover, Pathways graduates were more likely to remain
in teaching for at least three years than typical
beginning teachers, and they taught in high-need districts
at extremely high rates. Pathways is now a nationally
recognized model for creating alternative routes into
the teaching profession.
a June 2002 paper
, Cynthia D. Prince, the issues analysis director
of the American Association of School Administrators,
suggests that because most teachers “will not
choose to work in the most difficult schools voluntarily,”
states and districts should use comprehensive systems
of financial incentives to attract qualified teachers
to high-need schools. Such incentives could include
targeted salary increases for hard-to-fill positions,
bonuses, housing incentives, tuition assistance, and
tax credits. Both New York and California have recently
implemented recruitment programs that incorporate
several of these elements.
Teacher Project’s 2003 article “Missed
Opportunities: How We Keep High-Quality Teachers Out
of Urban Classrooms” argues that the reason
high-quality teachers don’t end up in high-need
schools isn’t a lack of applicants, but the
delayed hiring process used by many large urban districts.
Because prospective teachers are often left in limbo
until July or August, many withdraw their applications
out of frustration. Among other recommendations, the
authors urge policymakers to adopt predictable budgets
early in the year to insulate hard-to-staff schools
from budget fluctuations.
State-by-state trends in standardized math and reading
test scores support the link between teaching quality
and student achievement. The states that lead the nation
on these exams have long prioritized teacher quality.
points out that “long-time leaders” in
student achievement, like Minnesota, North Dakota,
and Iowa, “have all had a long history of professional
teacher policy and are among the 12 states that have
state professional standards boards which have enacted
high standards for persons entering the teaching profession.”
She adds: “They are recently joined at the top
of the achievement distribution by Wisconsin, Maine,
and Montana, states that have also enacted rigorous
standards for teaching and that are among the few
which rarely hire unqualified teachers on substandard
In addition, research indicates that focusing on teaching
quality can improve achievement in struggling states.
a 2001 Center for the Study of Teaching and Learning
Darling-Hammond and Suzanne Wilson of Michigan State
University evaluated Connecticut’s large-scale
efforts to improve teaching quality in the mid-1980s.
These efforts included raising and equalizing teacher
salaries across districts, increasing licensing standards
by requiring more preparation to enter the field,
creating scholarships and forgivable loans to draw
excellent students into teacher education programs,
eliminating emergency licensing, requiring teacher-to-teacher
mentorship and ongoing professional development, and
more. Researchers believe these policies are a major
factor behind the sharp and steady increase in Connecticut
students’ scores on standardized tests.
Education finance experts recognize the importance
of improving teaching quality and have included this
goal in costing-out studies in various states.
Evidence-Based Approach to School Finance Adequacy
in Arkansas,” recommended substantial changes
aimed at improving teaching quality.
report advised using a performance-based pay system
and increasing teacher salaries overall to increase
competitiveness with surrounding areas and attract
teachers in high-need subject areas.
report also recommended more funding for professional
development, and outlined criteria for effective
professional development programs.
“New York Adequacy Study” recommended using
professional development to ensure teachers’ understanding
of state standards and to help them reach diverse and
at-risk student populations. The report emphasized that
professional development should go beyond workshops
and encourage mentoring and school-based peer exchanges.
Center for Teaching Quality is a research
and training organization that seeks to guide policy
and impact teachers. Executive Director Barnett Berry
has presented extensively on "Recruiting
and Retaining Good Teachers for Hard-to-Staff, Low-Performing
for Strengthening the Teaching Profession works
to strengthen the teaching profession by researching
quality-teaching issues, holding workshops for teachers
interested in education advocacy, and more.
The University of Washington’s Center
for the Study of Teaching and Policy researches
ways to improve the quality of teaching and learning
in public schools.
Commission of the States maintains a comprehensive
site on teaching quality with information about
current policies and links to recent research.
Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education is
a coalition of professional organizations that accredits
teacher preparation programs.
Council on Teacher Quality promotes policies to
improve teacher quality and to direct the best teachers
to the neediest schools. The group monitors federal,
state, and local teacher policies and publishes research
reports on key issues.
Council on Teaching and America’s Future published
the influential report “What Matters Most: Teaching
for America’s Future” () in 1996. The organization
continues to research and advocate for strategies to
improve teaching quality.
Staff Development Council is a professional association
focusing on staff development and school improvement.
Prepared by Emily Wallace, January 21, 2005