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Facts About Teacher Quality, Training and Certification:
Are We "Destroying the Future, One Child at a Time"?

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Note: Congress has reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the statute formerly known as No Child Left Behind. The new statute, Every Student Succeeds Act, was signed into law by President Obama on December 10, 2015.


On June 12, 2002, Secretary of Education Rod Paige issued a call to action. Paige called for states to transform their teacher certification systems by raising standards and lowering barriers that keep many qualified individuals from pursuing teaching careers.

Paige's challenge was based on findings in the first annual report to Congress, Teacher Quality: Meeting the Highly Qualified Teacher Challenge. Data from this report show that state certification systems accept too many teachers who lack content knowledge of the subjects they will teach.

"As a nation, we have made the commitment to all children in our public schools that every one of them can and will learn. Every single child. Regardless of race, income or zip code." - Rod Paige, Secretary of Education

The No Child Left Behind Act calls for highly qualified teachers — teachers demonstrating subject knowledge and skills in reading, writing, mathematics and other basic subject areas — to be in place in every classroom by the end of the 2005-06 school year.

"We Are Destroying the Future, One Child at a Time"

Dr. Paige said, "The National report cards in recent years show we are destroying that future—one child at a time."
Sec of Education Rod Paige with group in children in Atlanta

Two out of three 4th graders cannot read proficiently
Seven out of 10 inner-city and rural 4th graders cannot read at the most basic level.
Nearly one-third of college freshmen need remedial classes before they can handle entry level courses.
American 12th graders rank among the lowest in math and science of all industrialized nations.

"These are more than just statistics. They are a grim picture of the human toll of an education system that is failing too many African-American, Hispanic and low-income children in our nation's classrooms . . . "

"Never before have we as a nation made the commitment to all children in our public schools that every one of them can and will learn. Every single child. Regardless of race, income or zip code."

"The No Child Left Behind Act also recognizes that just throwing money at a problem won't make it go away. Over the last half-century local, state and federal taxpayers have spent more than $10 trillion on our public schools. $10 trillion."

"And what have we got to show for it? Every year we did the same thing: spent more money. And every year we got the same result: mediocre student performance—or worse."

"Albert Einstein said insanity is 'the belief that one can get different results by doing the same thing.' It doesn't take an Einstein to see the truth is that all the money in the world won't fix our schools if your only plan is to throw more money at the problem."

"Moms and dads want the best for their children . . . they understand the only way to know if teachers are teaching and their children are learning is to measure for results—and to hold schools accountable."
- Rod Paige, Secretary of Education

"We Must Create a Framework for Change"

"To solve the problem, you must first create a framework for change."

"Our new education reforms provide that framework by insisting on accountability and results; by providing local control and flexibility; by empowering parents to take a lead in their children's education; and by insisting on teaching methods that work."

"The basics work. Research-based reading programs work. Testing works."

Dr. Paige, Claudia Gaines and 4th grader Chantice Smith during a reading session "Defenders of the status quo hate the idea of testing. But parents don't. Recent polls show the American people standing shoulder to shoulder with the president on annual testing. Moms and dads want the best for their children. They understand that the only way to know if teachers are teaching and their children are learning is to measure for results—and to hold schools accountable."

"Their own children agree. A Public Agenda poll shows 95 percent of students are not obsessing over the idea of tests." (Read full text of Dr. Paige's speech)

"Smart Teachers with Solid Content Knowledge"

“We now have concrete evidence that smart teachers with solid content knowledge have the greatest effect on student achievement,” Paige said.

“If we are to meet the challenge of having a highly qualified teacher in every classroom by the 2005-06 school year, states and universities must take heed and act now to bring more of these people into our nation’s classrooms. There is much to be done, but we know what it is and have no time to waste if no child is to be left behind.”

Minimum Standards Often "Shockingly Low"

According to this Report to Congress, states certify many teachers who lack solid academic skills while blocking teachers who have strong skills. Although states use licensure exams to ensure that teachers have a minimum level of knowledge and skills, the report notes that "what states consider 'minimum' is often shockingly low."

Raise Standards, Lower Barriers

To raise academic standards, the report calls on states to require prospective teachers to pass rigorous exams in the subjects they plan to teach. Research shows that teachers with strong academic backgrounds in specific content areas are more likely to boost the academic performance of their students in those subjects.

To lower barriers, the report calls on states and institutions of higher education to revamp their teacher preparation programs and eliminate many of their rigid certification requirements, such as the massive number of methods courses. While teachers certainly need to understand how to teach—and to have other basic skills such as classroom management—there is no evidence that lengthy preparation programs achieve these goals any better than streamlined programs that quickly get talented teachers into the classroom. Requiring excessive numbers of
pedagogy or education theory courses acts as an unnecessary barrier for those wishing to pursue a teaching career.

Alternative Routes to Teaching

The report examines the initial success of several alternate routes to teaching that are less burdensome than traditional preparation programs.

These programs recruit successful recent college graduates or mid-career professionals who are interested in teaching and who also possess strong backgrounds in their subject areas. They are streamlined quickly into high-need schools, and are provided training, mentoring and support once they are on the job.

These programs, such as Troops to Teachers and Teach for America, hold promise for identifying and supporting candidates who will serve as outstanding new teachers.

The "Teacher Quality Report"

"Meeting the Highly Qualified Teachers Challenge" is the first annual report to Congress on the state of teacher quality nationwide, as required by Title II of the Higher Education Act of 1998. The Report was based on responses from state reports on teacher quality submitted to the Department for the first time in October 2001, and includes comprehensive data, by state, about:

* State certification and license requirements for traditional and alternate teacher preparation programs;
* Statewide pass rates on state assessments;
* Numbers of teachers on waivers or emergency/temporary permits (allowed to teach without having an initial full certificate or license);
* Teacher standards and their alignment with student standards; and
* State criteria for identifying low-performing schools of education.

Highlights of the Teacher Quality Report

Academic standards for teachers are generally low.

* Only 23 states have implemented teacher standards tied to their academic content standards for grades K-12.

* On the teacher licensure test used by 29 states, only one state set its passing score in reading near the national average.

* Fifteen states set passing scores in reading below the 25th percentile.

On math and writing tests, only one state set its passing score above the national average.

Not surprisingly, more than 90 percent of teachers pass these tests.

“We know the importance of having a highly qualified teacher in every classroom in America,” Paige said. “This report spells out what needs to be done and is a useful tool for policymakers at the state and local levels, institutions of higher education with teacher preparation programs, and students and citizens interested in becoming teachers.”

You can download the report "Teacher Quality: Meeting the Highly Qualified Teachers Challenge", state reports and other information from

Teacher Quality Resources

Teacher Quality: Meeting the Highly Qualified Teachers Challenge. Information page with summaries and links to reports.

State Reports on Quality of Teacher Preparation. Check your state's pass rates.

FAQs: Teacher Quality

Interpret with Caution: The First Title II Reports on Quality of Teacher Preparation. by Sandra Huang, Yun Yi, Kati Haycock.

According to this article, states hide data that reflect poorly on their teaching staff. Many states and higher ed institutions report that all teachers are fully certified or that 100 percent of candidates passed the teacher licensure tests, despite conflicting information from other sources. States used various strategies to come up with these 100% pass rates. Only one teacher preparation institution in the nation was classified as low performing! Download from

Links to No Child Left Behind Resources

Learn about the No Child Left Behind Act.

Get Fact Sheets about reading achievement, Reading First Program, 21st Century Technology, State Standards, Getting Students Help, Measuring Progress, School Safety, and other topics from U. S. Department of Education - No Child Left Behind Facts Sheets.

No Child Left Behind Info & Resources from Wrightslaw

No Child Left Behind Newsletter
- Subscribe to an electronic newsletter that includes information, events, announcements about No Child Left Behind Act.

Free Pubs

Good Teaching Matters: How Well-Qualified Teachers Can Close the Gap (16 pages, pdf).

This report synthesizes recent research which shows that teachers are the single most significant factor related to student achievement. Using data from William Sanders, Ronald Ferguson and others who analyze the "value added" by teachers, author Kati Haycock argues that the best investment states and districts can make for poor and minority students is assuring a well-qualified teacher for every child.

Teaching Reading is Rocket Science: What Expert Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do, American Federation of Teachers (36 pages, pdf).

"Reading is the fundamental skill upon which all formal instruction depends. Research shows that a child who doesn't learn the reading basics early is unlikely to learn them at all. Any child who doesn't learn to read early and well will not easily master other skills and knowledge and is unlikely to ever flourish in school or in life."

Designing Powerful Professional Development for Teachers and Principals, National Staff Development Council (2002).

For most teachers and principals, professional development is unfocused, insufficient, and irrelevant to the day-to-day problems they face. This book focuses on ways to improve the quality of professional learning for school personnel.

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