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Improving Teacher Quality: NCLB Raises the Bar

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger

The requirements for highly qualified teachers that are part of the No Child Left Behind Act, as well as more stringent prerequisites surrounding teacher accreditation, have underscored discussions about teacher quality over the last several years. The Educational Testing Service has released a report about marked improvement in teacher quality over the past decade. The report, "Teacher Quality in a Changing Policy Landscape: Improvements in the Teacher Pool" sought to examine, in its own words, whether "changes in the academic quality of the teaching force are associated with this unprecedented policy focus."

The ETS reexamined previous research by comparing the academic qualifications of teacher candidates who took its Praxis assessments for teacher licensure from 2002 through 2005 with the qualifications of a cohort from eight years earlier. According to the ETS, the research "demonstrates strongly that when stakeholders target and focus on a common objective, positive change can occur."

Here are a few of the report's findings:

  • The academic profile (Praxis II passing rates, SAT scores, and grade point averages) of the entire candidate pool, including those meeting state Praxis requirements, has improved.
  • Today's candidates have higher college GPAs. The percentage of candidates reporting higher than a 3.5 GPA increased from 27 percent to 40 percent, while the percentage of candidates reporting lower than a 3.0 GPA decreased from 32 percent to 20 percent.
  • Improvements are consistent across genders, racial and ethnic groups, and licensure areas.
  • During the last few years, more Praxis candidates were individuals with prior teaching experience, particularly those from university-based teacher-preparation programs.

The report cites several factors that have yielded the greatest impact:

  • Teacher-education programs are more accountable for reporting teacher candidates' test scores.
  • There is a greater focus on ensuring that all teachers are qualified. The NCLB mandate for highly qualified teachers requires educators to be licensed and to show competence in their subject area. This requirement, in turn, led to development of content tests to ensure the subject proficiency of middle school teachers.
  • States have increased the requirements for entry into teacher-education programs. Some, for example, have set a minimum GPA.
  • The quality requirements for accreditation have become harder. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council, for example, now require candidates to provide evidence of subject-area knowledge and pedagogical skill.
  • There has been a rapid expansion of alternate pathways into teaching.

Chief ETS researcher Drew Gitomer also points out a few not-so-positive discoveries. "One of the sobering findings of the report is that the teacher candidate pool is no more diverse than it was a decade ago," he says. "Females continue to make up three-quarters of the candidate pool, which is overwhelmingly white. The lack of language diversity continues."

The ETS is very upfront about the issues surrounding the use of teacher-licensure tests and entry tests as a measure of teacher quality, but it also points out that doing so does make sense, because using this kind of test can show that, as it says, "an individual has acquired a level of knowledge that is acceptable for licensing a beginning teacher, and that teachers without this knowledge are unlikely to become effective teachers."

This is a fascinating report for those of us intrigued by NCLB policy changes and teacher-quality issues. As someone who entered the profession with a generic certification for grades 1-8, I would now need additional certification to teach content in middle schools. I see this as a positive policy difference from some time ago.

A lot has changed over the years since I started teaching: The Praxis replaced the National Teacher Examination, NCLB was born with labor pains for everyone, and research continues to single out teacher quality as a key factor in student success. We've all worked hard to improve the quality of our profession, and it's nice to see this effort reflected positively. There still remains a huge teacher shortage, but research such as this study might make us all feel a little better because our profession continues to demonstrate positive growth in some areas.

Personally, I encourage prospective teachers to join the ranks, even with all the challenges we face. As I work with school administrators across the country, I continue to assist them in ensuring that the teachers they hire have the full realm of support they need to remain in the profession.

Do you agree with these results? What factors strike you the most? If you read the full report, what other issues stood out for you? Do you believe that any policy pains surrounding teacher quality that may have resulted from NCLB are worth it?

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger

Comments (26)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Lindsay's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I do see that the teacher pool is still largely made up of white, English-speaking, women and I wish it wasn't so. I believe the school-age boys and children of different ethnicities would benefit greatly from having teacher role models that look or speak like them. I glad to see that teacher candidate's GPA's are increasing as are the alternative routes to become a teacher. Although teachers are underpaid and under-appreciated, they really are the basis of almost every single American's future. The more highly trained the teacher, the greater the learning potential for the students. In order for students to achieve at the highest level, they need to learn from teachers that are not just knowledgable in their content areas, but teachers that have been trained to engage the students and entice them into wanting to learn. I embrace the fact that I, as a new teacher, had to earn a high GPA, pass difficult tests, and demonstrate my abilities through student teaching. If anything, I would probably make the requirements more stringent. Educators should be passionate about education and should care as much about their own personal educational endeavors as they do their students'.

bansted's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that teachers need to be qualified to teach. Increasing teacher knowledge is a good idea. I wonder however, if measuring the GPA and Praxis scores indicates that a teacher is a good teacher. I have had my share of teachers who knew everything about a subject, but they couldn't convey that knowledge to others.

I believe that the NCLB law can also be too strict for some. I know teachers who have taught for more than twenty years and they have to go back to school to become "highly qualified". Experience should count when determining the qualification status of teachers.

In addition to requiring knowledge of the subject matter, teachers should also be required to prove competency in other areas as well. Requirements should include proof of classroom management skills, as well as knowledge of researched based teaching methodologies.

Susie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have been teaching for over 25 years and the most important quality that I see in the "great" teachers is passion. We can't test passion. We can't tell how much passion a teacher has for her students and her subject by looking at her GPA. I wholeheartedly agree that we need the Praxis test and a GPA standard, but how many teachers, especially minorities, are we chasing away?

may quach's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Is this blog, which apparently discusses alleged teacher improvement nationally due to the NCLB,of relevance in Dade county. If 40% of teacher candidates actually have a 3.5 GPA in Dade County, this could only be due to grade inflation in the local colleges in the last ten years and not due the NCLB requirements. In Dade County, the candidate pool is still basically female but due to necessity there is a diversity as to languages used.With the tremendous emphasis on FCAT, it is almost impossible to have alternate pathways into teaching as stated in this article. Lack of money incentives and outlets for creativity make this article almost seem inapplicable to Dade County.

Beth's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


I agree that our students need to see teachers of different ethnicities teaching them. In our school system, there is much diversity among the students but not as much among the teaching staff. Even though I believe are system is basically a good climate for this diversity, children of many cultures would benefit from seeing teachers who share some of their heritage.

I also believe that it would be beneficial to boys to have more male teachers. In this day and age where there are so many single parents, many children do not have a positive male role model. The problem as I see it are that teaching, having lower pay, does not draw as many talented men into the profession. In order to encourage men to join the ranks of teachers, teachers would need to have a competitive wage with other professionals.

Kristen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have had similar experiences and share many of the beliefs as many of you. There were four teachers in my district who retired last year, not because they were ready to, but because they weren't considered "highly qualified" even though they had been teaching for twenty-plus years. I agree that teachers should take the PRAXIS and that they should have a decent GPA in college, but I do not believe that either of those things necessarily means that you will be an effective teacher.

I was not a great math student. I went to tutors but still struggled throughout my academic career. It is because of these life experiences that I feel I am such a great math teacher. Because I struggled in math I developed tricks for solving problems and know how to break concepts down very simply...both of which really seem to help my struggling students. I know that I am an effective teacher, but, if my ability to be an effective math teacher was solely based on my performance on a test, I probably wouldn't have the job I have today.

It is unfortunate, but we live in a test-crazy society, and I believe that the NCLB Act has a lot to do with this. I think children and teachers alike are being evaluated with standardized tests that do not accurately assess what they are supposed to.

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