Most Teachers "Highly Qualified" Under NCLB Standards, But Teacher Qualifications Lag in Many High Poverty and High Minority Schools

Recruiting and Retaining Highly Qualified Teachers is Major Challenge in High Poverty Districts

Washington, D.C. - Most public school teachers are "highly qualified" under the terms of the No Child Left Behind Act, but many low income and minority students experience inequities when it comes to the qualifications of the teachers in their classrooms, according to a new U.S. Department of Education report written by experts with the American Institutes for Research (AIR).

The report, Teacher Quality Under NCLB: Interim Report, includes analyses of data from the largest national survey of teachers, principals, paraprofessionals and school district staff to be conducted since the law was passed by Congress in 2001. That study, the National Longitudinal Study of No Child Left Behind, is being done as a partnership of AIR and the RAND Corporation.

At least 74 percent of general education teachers reported they were highly qualified under NCLB for the subjects they taught, 23 percent did not know their status and 4 percent said they were not highly qualified. After analyzing the characteristics of the teachers who did not know if they were highly qualified, the AIR researchers concluded that over 90 percent of teachers were highly qualified under NCLB standards set by the states.

"Although a high percentage of teachers are considered highly qualified, the results tend to mask some problem areas," says Dr. Kerstin Le Floch, a principal research analyst at AIR and one of the authors of the study. A higher percentage of teachers who are not highly qualified under NCLB teach special education, limited English proficiency classes and in middle schools, as well as in high-poverty and high-minority schools. Even among teachers considered highly qualified, the teachers in high-poverty schools had less experience and were less likely to have a degree in the subject they taught.

Attracting and retaining highly qualified teachers is a major challenge, especially in high minority, high poverty, urban and rural districts, and for specific subject areas, the report finds.

"Approximately two thirds of all districts faced challenges in special education, science, and mathematics, but some districts faced more challenges than others," the report states. "For example, in mathematics and science the percentage of high minority districts that struggled to attract and retain highly qualified applicants was nearly double that of low minority districts."

A majority of all districts (65 percent) reported they had difficulty attracting highly qualified applicants in science. Sixty percent said highly qualified applicants in mathematics were hard to come by, and 57 percent reported difficulty in recruiting top-notch special education teachers.

The problem was exacerbated in high poverty, high minority and urban districts, where the biggest recruitment obstacle was competition with other districts. These districts were most likely to offer financial incentives and alternate certification routes to recruit highly qualified applicants. Even though fewer than 25 percent of districts around the country used financial incentives, such as increased salaries, signing bonuses, or housing incentives to attract highly qualified candidates, more than 75 percent of high minority districts offered such incentives, according to the report.

The study of the implementation of the highly qualified teacher provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act can be found at the U.S. Department of Education Web site, the AIR Web site, and the RAND Web site The report describes the progress states, districts and schools have made implementing the teacher and paraprofessional qualification provisions through 2004-05.

The report, which presents findings from two national studies - the Study of State Implementation of Accountability and Teacher Quality Under NCLB (SSI-NCLB) and the National Longitudinal Study of NCLB (NLS-NCLB) - also found:

While the majority of teachers were aware of the state requirements for highly qualified teachers, nearly half of the teachers said they had not received official notification of their status.

Special education teachers were almost four times as likely to report that they were not considered highly qualified (15 percent) than were general education teachers (4 percent).

Nearly all teachers reported taking part in content-focused professional development related to teaching reading or mathematics, but only 20 percent of elementary teachers participated in more than 24 hours of professional development on reading strategies, and only 8 percent participated in extended training in teaching mathematics.

About half of high school mathematics teachers (49 percent) said they received no professional development focused on the study of mathematics content.

States have been working to update their data systems, but most reported difficulty tracking some data elements and in collecting and maintaining data on teacher qualifications.

A minority of districts provided targeted support for teachers who were not considered highly qualified. About one-third of districts reported providing increased amounts of professional development to teachers who were not highly qualified with little variation by poverty or minority level or district size.

Almost two-thirds (63 percent) of Title I instructional paraprofessionals were identified as qualified; 28 percent did not know their status. Paraprofessionals in medium- and high-poverty schools were notably less likely to have completed two years of college or an associate degree (one of the three NCLB requirements) than were paraprofessionals in low-poverty schools.

AIR partners in the SSI-NCLB and the NLS-NCLB studies include the RAND Corporation, the National Opinion Research Center, and REDA International. The additional AIR authors of the teacher quality report include Beatrice Birman, Amy Klekotka, Meredith Ludwig, James Taylor, Kirk Walters, Andrew Wayne and Kwang Suk Yoon.

About AIR

Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is an independent, nonpartisan not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research on important social issues and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education, and workforce productivity.

About the RAND Corporation

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit research organization providing objective analysis and effective solutions that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors around the world.