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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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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
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