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Volume 8 Number 1 January 1, 2000 ISSN 1068-2341
A peer-reviewed scholarly electronic journal
Editor: Gene V Glass, College of Education
Arizona State University
Copyright 2000, the
EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES
Permission is hereby granted to copy any article
is credited and copies are not sold.
Articles appearing in
are abstracted in the Current
Index to Journals in Education by the ERIC Clearinghouse
on Assessment and Evaluation and are permanently archived
in Resources in Education.
Teacher Quality and Student Achievement:
A Review of State Policy Evidence
Using data from a 50-state survey of policies, state case study analyses,
the 1993-94 Schools and Staffing Surveys (SASS), and the National
Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), this study examines the
ways in which teacher qualifications and other school inputs are related
to student achievement across states. The findings of both the qualitative
and quantitative analyses suggest that policy investments in the quality
of teachers may be related to improvements in student performance.
Quantitative analyses indicate 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. State policy surveys and case study data are
used to evaluate policies that influence the overall level of teacher
qualifications within and across states. This analysis suggests that
policies adopted by states regarding teacher education, licensing, hiring,
and professional development may make an important difference in the
qualifications and capacities that teachers bring to their work. The
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implications for state efforts to enhance quality and equity in public
education are discussed. (Note 1)
For many years, educators and researchers have debated which school variables
influence student achievement. As policymakers become more involved in school
reform, this question takes on new importance since their many initiatives rely on
presumed relationships between various education-related factors and learning
outcomes. Some research has suggested that "schools bring little influence to bear upon
a child's achievement that is independent of his background and general social context"
(Coleman et al., 1966, p. 325; see also Jencks et al., 1972). Other evidence suggests that
factors like class size (Glass et al., 1982; Mosteller, 1995), teacher qualifications
(Ferguson, 1991), school size (Haller, 1993), and other school variables may play an
important role in what students learn.
As new standards for student learning have been introduced across the states,
greater attention has been given to the role that teacher quality plays in student
achievement (National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 1996; National
Education Goals Panel, 1998). In the last few years, more than 25 states have enacted
legislation to improve teacher recruitment, education, certification, or professional
development (Darling-Hammond, 1997a). While some evidence suggests that better
qualified teachers may make a difference for student learning at the classroom, school,
and district levels, there has been little inquiry into the effects on achievement that may
be associated with large-scale policies and institutional practices that affect the overall
level of teachers' knowledge and skills in a state or region. This paper reports on one
such study, which combines state level case studies and quantitative analyses of
state-level achievement data to examine whether and how state policies may influence
teachers' capabilities and student learning.
Using data from a 50-state policy survey conducted by the National Commission
on Teaching and America's Future, case studies of selected states conducted under the
auspices of the Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy, the 1993-94 Schools and
Staffing Surveys (SASS), and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)
sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics, the study examines the ways
in which teacher qualifications and other school inputs, such as class size, are related to
student achievement across states, taking student characteristics into account. In
addition, these data and state case study data are used to evaluate policies that influence
the overall level of teacher qualifications within and across states.
Despite conventional wisdom that school inputs make little difference in student
learning, a growing body of research suggests that schools can make a difference, and a
substantial portion of that difference is attributable to teachers. Recent studies of teacher
effects at the classroom level using the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System and
a similar data base in Dallas, Texas, have found that differential teacher effectiveness is
a strong determinant of differences in student learning, far outweighing the effects of
differences in class size and heterogenity (Sanders & Rivers, 1996; Wright, Horn, &
Sanders, 1997; Jordan, Mendro, & Weerasinghe, 1997). Students who are assigned to
several ineffective teachers in a row have significantly lower achievement and gains in
achievement than those who are assigned to several highly effective teachers in sequence
(Sanders & Rivers, 1996). Teacher effects appear to be additive and cumulative, and
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generally not compensatory. These studies also find troubling indicators for educational
equity, noting evidence of strong bias in assignment of students to teachers of different
effectiveness levels (Jordan, Mendro, & Weerasinghe, 1997), including indications that
African American students are nearly twice as likely to be assigned to the most
ineffective teachers and half as likely to be assigned to the most effective teachers
(Sanders & Rivers, 1996). These studies did not, however, examine the characteristics or
practices of more and less effective teachers.
These issues have been the topic of much other research over the last 50 years.
Variables presumed to be indicative of teachers' competence which have been examined
for their relationship to student learning include measures of academic ability, years of
education, years of teaching experience, measures of subject matter and teaching
knowledge, certification status, and teaching behaviors in the classroom. The results of
these studies have been mixed; however, some trends have emerged in recent years.
General Academic Ability and Intelligence While studies as long ago as the
1940s have found positive correlations between teaching performance and measures of
teachers' intelligence (usually measured by IQ) or general academic ability (Hellfritsch,
1945; LaDuke, 1945; Rostker, 1945; Skinner, 1947), most relationships are small and
statistically insignificant. Two reviews of such studies concluded that there is little or no
relationship between teachers' measured intelligence and their students' achievement
(Schalock, 1979; Soar, Medley, & Coker, 1983). Explanations for the lack of strong
relationship between measures of IQ and teacher effectiveness have included the lack of
variability among teachers in this measure and its tenuous relationship to actual
performance (Vernon, 1965; Murnane, 1985). However, other studies have suggested
that teachers' verbal ability is related to student achievement (e.g., Bowles & Levin,
1968; Coleman et al., 1966; Hanushek, 1971), and that this relationship may be
differentially strong for teachers of different types of students (Summers & Wolfe,
1975). Verbal ability, it is hypothesized, may be a more sensitive measure of teachers'
abilities to convey ideas in clear and convincing ways (Murnane, 1985).
Subject Matter Knowledge Subject matter knowledge is another variable that
one might think could be related to teacher effectiveness. While there is some support
for this assumption, the findings are not as strong and consistent as one might suppose.
Studies of teachers' scores on the subject matter tests of the National Teacher
Examinations (NTE) have found no consistent relationship between this measure of
subject matter knowledge and teacher performance as measured by student outcomes or
supervisory ratings. Most studies show small, statistically insignificant relationships,
both positive and negative (Andrews, Blackmon & Mackey, 1980; Ayers & Qualls,
1979; Haney, Madaus, & Kreitzer, 1986; Quirk, Witten, & Weinberg, 1973; Summers &
Byrne (1983) summarized the results of thirty studies relating teachers' subject
matter knowledge to student achievement. The teacher knowledge measures were either
a subject knowledge test (standardized or researcher-constructed) or number of college
courses taken within the subject area. The results of these studies were mixed, with 17
showing a positive relationship and 14 showing no relationship. However, many of the
"no relationship" studies, Byrne noted, had so little variability in the teacher knowledge
measure that insignificant findings were almost inevitable. Ashton and Crocker (1987)
found only 5 of 14 studies they reviewed exhibited a positive relationship between
measures of subject matter knowledge and teacher performance.
It may be that these results are mixed because subject matter knowledge is a
positive influence up to some level of basic competence in the subject but is less
important thereafter. For example, a controlled study of middle school mathematics
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teachers, matched by years of experience and school setting, found that students of fully
certified mathematics teachers experienced significantly larger gains in achievement
than those taught by teachers not certified in mathematics. The differences in student
gains were greater for algebra classes than general mathematics (Hawk, Coble, &
Swanson, 1985). However, Begle and Geeslin (1972) found in a review of mathematics
teaching that the absolute number of course credits in mathematics was not linearly
related to teacher performance.
It makes sense that knowledge of the material to be taught is essential to good
teaching, but also that returns to subject matter expertise would grow smaller beyond
some minimal essential level which exceeds the demands of the curriculum being
taught. This interpretation is supported by Monk's (1994) more recent study of
mathematics and science achievement. Using data on 2,829 students from the
Longitudinal Study of American Youth, Monk (1994) found that teachers' content
preparation, as measured by coursework in the subject field, is positively related to
student achievement in mathematics and science but that the relationship is curvilinear,
with diminishing returns to student achievement of teachers' subject matter courses
above a threshold level (e.g., five courses in mathematics).
In a multilevel analysis of the same data set, Monk and King (1994) found both
positive and negative, generally insignificant effects of teachers' subject matter
preparation on student achievement. They did find some evidence of cumulative effects
of prior as well as proximate teachers' subject matter preparation on student performance
in mathematics. Effects differed for high- and low-achieving students and for different
grade levels. In a review of 65 studies of science teachers' characteristics and behaviors,
Druva and Anderson (1983) found students' science achievement was positively related
to the teachers' course taking background in both education and in science. The
relationship between teachers' training in science and student achievement was greater in
higher level science courses, a result similar to that found by Hawk, Coble, and Swanson
(1985) in mathematics.
It may also be that the measure of subject matter knowledge makes a difference in
the findings. Measures of course-taking in a subject area have more frequently been
found to be related to teacher performance than have scores on tests of subject matter
knowledge. This might be because tests necessarily capture a narrower slice of any
domain. Furthermore, in the United States, most teacher tests have used multiple-choice
measures that are not very useful for assessing teachers' ability to analyze and apply
knowledge. More authentic measures may capture more of the influence of subject
matter knowledge on student learning. For example, a test of French language teachers'
speaking skill was found to have significant correlation to students' achievement in
speaking and listening (Carroll, 1975).
Despite concerns that education majors may be less well prepared in their subject
areas than are academic majors (Galambos, 1985), comparisons of teachers with degrees
in education vs. those with degrees in disciplinary fields have found no relationship
between degree type and teacher performance (Murnane, 1985). This may be because
certification requirements reduce the variability in course backgrounds found for
teachers with different degree types. For example, many states require the equivalent of
an academic major or minor in the field to be taught as part of the education degree for
high school teachers, regardless of the department granting the degree (NASDTEC,
1997). Given the standardizing influences of licensing requirements within states but
substantial differences in licensing requirements across states, within-state studies are
likely to find less variation in teachers' education backgrounds than might be found in
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Knowledge of Teaching and Learning Studies have found a somewhat stronger
and more consistently positive influence of education coursework on teachers'
effectiveness. Ashton and Crocker (1987) found significant positive relationships
between education coursework and teacher performance in four of seven studies they
reviewed—a larger share than those showing subject matter relationships. Evertson,
Hawley, and Zlotnik (1985) reported a consistent positive effect of teachers' formal
education training on supervisory ratings and student learning, with 11 of 13 studies
showing greater effectiveness for fully prepared and certified vs. uncertified or
provisionally certified teachers. With respect to subject matter coursework, 5 of 8
studies they reviewed found no relationship and the other three found small associations.
Reviewing findings of the National Longitudinal Study of Mathematical Abilities,
Begle (1979) found that the number of credits a teacher had in mathematics methods
courses was a stronger correlate of student performance than was the number of credits
in mathematics courses or other indicators of preparation. Similarly, Monk's (1994)
study of student's mathematics and science achievement found that teacher education
coursework had a positive effect on student learning and was sometimes more influential
than additional subject matter preparation. In an analysis of science teaching, Perkes
(1967- 68) found that teachers' coursework credits in science were not significantly
related to student learning, but coursework in science education was significantly related
to students' achievement on tasks requiring problem solving and applications of science
knowledge. Teachers with greater training in science teaching were more likely to use
laboratory techniques and discussions and to emphasize conceptual applications of ideas,
while those with less education training placed more emphasis on memorization.
In a study of more than 200 graduates of a single teacher education program,
Ferguson and Womack (1993) examined the influences on 13 dimensions of teaching
performance of education and subject matter coursework, NTE subject matter test
scores, and GPA in the student's major. They found that the amount of education
coursework completed by teachers explained more than four times the variance in
teacher performance (16.5 percent) than did measures of content knowledge (NTE
scores and GPA in the major), which explained less than 4 percent. In a similar study
which compared relative influences of different kinds of knowledge on 12 dimensions of
teacher performance for more than 270 teachers, Guyton and Farokhi (1987) found
consistent strong, positive relationships between teacher education coursework
performance and teacher performance in the classroom as measured through a
standardized observation instrument, while relationships between classroom
performance and subject matter test scores were positive but insignificant and
relationships between classroom performance and basic skill scores were almost
nonexistent. Another program-based study by Denton and Lacina (1984) found positive
relationships between the extent of teachers' professional education coursework and their
teaching performance, including their students' achievement.
It may be that the positive effects of subject matter knowledge are augmented or
offset by knowledge of how to teach the subject to various kinds of students. That is, the
degree of pedagogical skill may interact with subject matter knowledge to bolster or
reduce teacher performance. As Byrne (1983) suggested:
It is surely plausible to suggest that insofar as a teacher's knowledge
provides the basis for his or her effectiveness, the most relevant knowledge
will be that which concerns the particular topic being taught and the
relevant pedagogical strategies for teaching it to the particular types of
pupils to whom it will be taught. If the teacher is to teach fractions, then it is
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knowledge of fractions and perhaps of closely associated topics which is of
major importance.... Similarly, knowledge of teaching strategies relevant to
teaching fractions will be important. (p. 14)
The kind and quality of in-service professional development as well as pre-service
education may make a difference in developing this knowledge. Several recent studies
have found that higher levels of student achievement are associated with mathematics
teachers' opportunities to participate in sustained professional development grounded in
content-specific pedagogy linked to the new curriculum they are learning to teach
(Cohen & Hill, 1997; Wiley & Yoon, 1995; Brown, Smith, & Stein, 1995). In these
studies, both the kind and extent of professional development mattered for teaching
practice and for student achievement.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress has also documented how
specific kinds of teacher learning opportunities correlate with their students' reading
achievement. On average, in the 1992 and 1994 assessments, 4th grade students of
teachers who were fully certified, who had master's degrees, and who had had
professional coursework in literature-based instruction did better than other students on
reading assessments (NCES, 1994; NCES, n.d.). While these relationships were modest,
the relationships between specific teaching practices and student achievement were often
quite pronounced, and these practices were in turn related to teacher learning
opportunities. NAEP analyses found that teachers who had had more professional
training were more likely to use teaching practices that are associated with higher
reading achievement on the NAEP tests--use of trade books and literature, integration of
reading and writing, and frequent visits to the library--and were less likely to engage in
extensive of use of reading kits, basal readers, workbooks, and multiple choice tests for
assessing reading, practices that the NAEP analyses found to be associated with lower
levels of student achievement. Interestingly, students of teachers who had had more
training in phonics instruction did noticeably less well than other students in both years.
Often, this kind of training, narrowly cast, is focused heavily on the use of basal readers
and workbooks rather than an integrated approach that teaches decoding skills in the
context of other important reading skills and language development strategies.
Other studies have found that students achieve at higher levels and are less likely
to drop out when they are taught by teachers with certification in their teaching field, by
those with master's degrees, and by those enrolled in graduate studies (Council for
School Performance, 1997; Knoblock, 1986; Sanders, Skonie-Hardin, & Phelps, 1994).
However, like the NAEP analyses described above, these are simple correlational
analyses that do not take into account other school resources or student characteristics
like poverty or language background that may affect student performance.
Continuity of teachers' learning may also matter. In earlier work, Hanushek (1971)
demonstrated that the recency of voluntary educational experience was related to teacher
performance. Penick and Yager (1983) found that teachers in exemplary science
programs had higher levels of education and more recent educational experiences than
others, even though they were older than the average science teacher. As Murnane
(1985) suggests, these findings may indicate that it is not only the knowledge acquired
with ongoing professional development (which may represent more recent advances in
the knowledge base) but also the teacher's enthusiasm for learning that relates to
increased student achievement.
Teaching Experience Other studies of the effects of teacher experience on
student learning have found a relationship between teachers' effectiveness and their years
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of experience (Murnane & Phillips, 1981; Klitgaard & Hall, 1974), but not always a
significant one or an entirely linear one. While many studies have established that
inexperienced teachers (those with less than three years of experience) are typically less
effective than more senior teachers, the benefits of experience appear to level off after
about five years, especially in non-collegial work settings (Rosenholtz, 1986). A
possible cause of this curvilinear trend in experience effects is that older teachers do not
always continue to grow and learn and may grow tired in their jobs. Furthermore, the
benefits of experience may interact with educational opportunities. Veteran teachers in
settings that emphasize continual learning and collaboration continue to improve their
performance (Rosenholtz, 1984). Similarly, very well-prepared beginning teachers can
be highly effective. For example, some recent studies of 5-year teacher education
programs--programs that include a bachelor's degree in the discipline and master's in
education as well as a year-long student teaching placement--have found graduates to be
more confident than graduates of 4-year programs and as effective as more senior
teachers (Andrew & Schwab, 1995; Denton & Peters, 1988).
It is also possible that uneven effects of experience in cross-sectional studies can
be the result of cohort effects (for example, cohorts of teachers hired in times of shortage
may be less well-qualified than those hired when schools can be more selective) or of
attrition effects (for example, disproportionate early attrition of more able teachers may
leave a less capable senior force on average) (Murnane & Phillips, 198; Vance &
Schlechty, 1982). Presumably, the direction of this effect would change if retention
policies kept the most able beginning teachers in the profession. Since experience is also
correlated with teacher education and certification status, these variables may be
confounded in some analyses.
Certification Status Certification or licensing status is a measure of teacher
qualifications that combines aspects of knowledge about subject matter and about
teaching and learning. Its meaning varies across the states because of differences in
licensing requirements, but a standard certificate generally means that a teacher has been
prepared in a state-approved teacher education program at the undergraduate or graduate
level and has completed either a major or a minor in the field(s) to be taught plus
anywhere from 18 to 40 education credits, depending on the state and the certificate
area, including between 8 and 18 weeks of student teaching. (The norm is about 30
education credits and about 12 to 15 weeks of student teaching.) There are only a few
states that have requirements outside these parameters; however, individual teacher
education programs often require more preparation than the state demands in education,
in clinical practice, and in the content area(s) to be taught. Most states now also require
one or more tests of basic skills, subject matter knowledge, and/or teaching knowledge
or skills as the basis for the initial or continuing license or for admission to teacher
While most states have been increasing their standards since the 1980s, more than
30 states still allow the hiring of teachers who have not met their licensing standards, a
practice that has been on the increase in some states as demand has grown in recent
years. Some allow the hiring of teachers with no license. Others issue emergency,
temporary, or provisional licenses to candidates who, depending on the state, may or
may not have met varying requirements (e.g., a bachelors degree, a certificate in another
teaching field, a basic skills test). More than 40 states have also initiated alternate route
provisions for candidates who enter through postbaccalaureate programs. Most of these
are master's degree programs which offer an education degree that meets all of the
normal state requirements but does so in a fashion tailored to individuals, like
mid-career entrants, who already have a bachelor's degree. Some states allow candidates
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to complete a short summer course of study and assume full teaching responsibilities,
with or without completing additional coursework.
In times of relatively low demand, like most of the 1980s, virtually all teachers
were certified and there was too little variability to find effects of this variable in
large-scale studies. Most studies of the influence of training and certification on teacher
performance are from the high-demand era of the 1960s and 1970s and from the 1990s
when demand increased again. Studies in different subject matter fields that compare
teachers with and without preparation have typically found higher ratings and greater
student learning gains for teachers who have more formal preparation for teaching. In
addition to the studies of science and mathematics teachers cited earlier, these include
reading and elementary education (Hice, 1970; LuPone, 1961; McNeil, 1974), early
childhood education (Roupp et al., 1979), gifted education (Hansen, 1988), and
vocational education (Erekson and Barr, 1985). In a review of research, Evertson,
Hawley, and Zlotnik (1985) concluded:
(T)he available research suggests that among students who become teachers,
those enrolled in formal preservice preparation programs are more likely to
be effective than those who do not have such training. Moreover, almost all
well planned and executed efforts within teacher preparation programs to
teach students specific knowledge or skills seem to succeed, at least in the
short run (p.8).
Other studies point out the differences in the perceptions and practices of teachers
with differing amounts and kinds of preparation. A number of studies suggest that the
typical problems of beginning teachers are lessened for those who have had adequate
preparation prior to entry (Adams, Hutchinson, & Martray, 1980; Glassberg, 1980;
Taylor & Dale, 1971). Studies of teachers admitted with less than full preparation--with
no teacher preparation or through very short alternate routes--have found that such
recruits tend to be less satisfied with their training (Darling-Hammond, Hudson, &
Kirby, 1987; Jelmberg, 1995), and they tend to have greater difficulties planning
curriculum, teaching, managing the classroom, and diagnosing students' learning needs
(Bents & Bents, 1990; Darling-Hammond, 1992; Lenk, 1989; Feiman-Nemser & Parker,
1990; Gomez & Grobe, 1990; Grady, Collins, & Grady, 1991; Grossman, 1989;
Mitchell, 1987; National Center for Research on Teacher Learning, 1992; Rottenberg &
Berliner, 1990). Principals, supervisors, and colleagues tend to rate them less highly on
their instructional skills (Bents & Bents, 1990; Jelmberg, 1995; Lenk, 1989;
Feiman-Nemser & Parker, 1990; Gomez & Grobe, 1990; Mitchell, 1987; Texas
Education Agency, 1993), and they tend to leave teaching at higher-than- average rates
(Darling-Hammond, 1992; Lutz & Hutton, 1989; Stoddart, 1992).
These findings are reflected in Gomez and Grobe's (1990) study of the
performance of alternate route candidates in Dallas, who receive a few weeks of summer
training from the district before they assume full teaching responsibilities. Although
these candidates were rated near the average on some aspects of teaching, they were
rated lower on such factors as their knowledge of instructional techniques and
instructional models. The performance of alternate route candidates was also much more
uneven than that of trained teachers, with a much greater proportion of them--from 2 to
16 times as many--rated "poor" on each of the teaching factors evaluated. The strongest
effects of this unevenness were seen in students' achievement in language arts, where the
achievement gains of students of alternate route teachers, adjusted for initial student
scores, were significantly lower than those of students of traditionally trained teachers.
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Two studies of alternative certification in Texas have reportedly failed to find
such gaps in the performance of students of alternative and traditionally licensed
teachers (cited in Goldhaber & Brewer, 1999). A study of Houston's alternative
certification program by Goebel, Romacher, and Sanchez (1989) reported no evidence of
differential student outcomes and little evidence of teacher effects. However, this study
did not control for students' initial test scores and did not match comparison teachers by
years of experience. First year traditionally trained teachers were compared to two
groups of alternative certification recruits, one with 1-4 years of experience and the other
with 5-7 years of experience. Thus, this study did not include adequate controls to allow
measurement of effects. Another study by Barnes, Salmon, and Wale (1989) reported
second-hand that two districts reported equivalent outcomes for alternative and
traditional program teachers but did not present any empirical data or discussion of
methodology. The study's table listing program types evaluated included 1 to 2-year
university-based master's programs (which are called "alternative" in Texas because they
are not undergraduate models) as well as district alternative programs that generally
offer only a few weeks of summer training. In this case, the "alternative" group included
programs providing extensive graduate level training along with those with very little
preparation, thus preventing assessment of the effects of preparation on teacher
effectiveness. With non-comparable groups and no controls, it is impossible to draw
inferences from either of these studies.
Some recent multivariate studies of student achievement at the school and district
level have found a substantial influence of teachers' qualifications on what students
learn, especially when scores on licensing examinations are included. In an analysis of
nearly 900 Texas school districts that evaluated the effects of many school input
variables and controlled for student background and district characteristics, Ronald
Ferguson (1991) found that combined measures of teachers' expertise--scores on a
licensing examination, master's degrees, and experience--accounted for more of the
inter-district variation in students' reading and mathematics achievement (and
achievement gains) in grades 1 through 11 than student socioeconomic status. An
additional, smaller contribution to student achievement was made by lower pupil-teacher
ratios and smaller schools in the elementary grades.
Of the teacher qualifications variables, the strongest relationship was found for
scores on the state licensing examination, a test that measures both basic skills and
teaching knowledge. The effects were so strong, and the variations in teacher expertise
so great, that after controlling for socioeconomic status, the large disparities in
achievement between black and white students were almost entirely accounted for by
differences in the qualifications of their teachers. Ferguson also found that every
additional dollar spent on more highly qualified teachers netted greater increases in
student achievement than did less instructionally focused uses of school resources.
Another study (Strauss & Sawyer, 1986) found that North Carolina's teachers'
average scores on the National Teacher Examinations (a licensing test which measures
subject matter and teaching knowledge) had a strong influence on average school district
test performance. Taking into account per-capita income, student race, district capital
assets, student plans to attend college, and pupil/teacher ratios, teachers' test scores had a
strikingly large effect on students' failure rates on the state competency examinations: a
1% increase in teacher quality (as measured by NTE scores) was associated with a 3 to
5% decline in the percentage of students failing the exam. The authors' conclusion is
similar to Ferguson's:
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Differences in State Policies Regarding Teaching
Despite logical presumptions and research evidence that student learning depends
substantially on what teachers know and can do, states differ greatly in the extent to
which they invest in teachers' learning as a key policy lever. At the front end of the
career, there is wide variation in the standards to which entering teachers and teacher
education institutions are held. Licensing standards are noticeably different from state to
state, as are state commitments to enforcing these standards. Later access to professional
development is also widely disparate.
In high-standards states like Wisconsin or Minnesota, for example, a prospective
high school teacher must complete a bachelor's degree that includes a full major in the
subject area to be taught plus coursework covering learning theory, child and adolescent
development, subject matter teaching methods, curriculum, effective teaching strategies,
uses of technology, classroom management, behavior and motivation, human relations,
and the education of students with special needs. In the course of this work, the teacher
must complete at least 18 weeks of student teaching in Wisconsin (at least a college
semester in Minnesota) under the supervision of a cooperating teacher who meets
minimum standards. In Minnesota, this experience must include work in a multicultural
setting and with special needs students. If teachers are asked to teach outside the field of
their major for part of the day, they must already be licensed with at least a minor in that
field, and can receive a temporary license in the new field only briefly while completing
a major. By contrast, in Louisiana, prospective high school teachers can be licensed
without even a minor in the field they will be teaching. The state does not require them
to have studied curriculum, teaching strategies, classroom management, uses of
technology, or the needs of special education students, and they can receive a license
with only six weeks of student teaching (NASDTEC, 1997; Darling-Hammond, 1997a).
In addition to differences in the standards themselves, there are great differences
in the extent to which they are enforced. Whereas some states do not allow districts to
hire unqualified teachers, others routinely allow the hiring of candidates who have not
met their standards, even when qualified teachers are available. In Wisconsin and eleven
other states, for example, no new elementary or secondary teachers were hired without a
license in their field in 1994. By contrast, in Louisiana, 31% of new entrants were
unlicensed and another 15% were hired on substandard licenses. At least six other states
allowed 20% or more of new public school teachers to be hired without a license in their
field (Darling-Hammond, 1997a, Appendix A). Studies of teacher hiring show that even
when there are an adequate number of qualified teachers in the labor market--which was
the case nationally and in most states from the early 1980s through the mid-1990s--some
districts hire unlicensed teachers because of cumbersome and poorly managed hiring
procedures that discourage qualified entrants, perennially late hiring (e.g. waiting until
late August or September to hire), patronage hiring, preferences for hiring lower salaried
staff, and inequalities in salary schedules caused by state funding formulas and by local
decisions to use budgets for purposes other than teacher salaries (see e.g. Haberman,
1995; Johanson and Gips, 1992; Pflaum and Abramson, 1990; National Commission on
Teaching and America's Future; Wise, Darling-Hammond, and Berry, 1987).
More than 30 states allow teachers to be hired on temporary or emergency licenses
without having completed preparation or having met other licensing requirements.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, at least 50,000 emergency or substandard licenses
were issued annually by states (NCTAF, 1996). Nationally, in 1994, 27% of those who
were new entrants into public school teaching held no license or a substandard license in
their main teaching field (Darling-Hammond, 1997a). Even the rigor of these restricted
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licenses varies. States such as Minnesota will issue a restricted license only to a teacher
who has already been fully prepared in a teaching field but who needs to complete
additional coursework in order to enter from out-of-state or switch to a new field or
teaching level. Such a license is only good for one year, while the necessary coursework
is completed. Others, including Louisiana, will issue an emergency license to a person
who does not even hold a bachelor's degree and will allow it to be renewed for several
years while the candidate makes little progress toward becoming licensed.
It is certainly true that differences in student enrollment growth, coupled with
teacher production rates and attrition, construct different levels of teacher demand that
can affect the ease or difficulty of hiring within states. While incentives to enter and stay
in teaching are affected by policies governing salaries, working conditions, and teacher
education funding, student enrollments are less amenable to policy control. It is
reasonable to ask whether these differences in operational teaching standards are mostly
a function of demographic trends beyond the control of state policymakers. In examining
state variations in hiring practices, however, it is clear that a number of high-growth
states have enacted and maintained high standards for entry to teaching while many
low-growth states have not. Policies appear to be at least as important as demographics
in determining the qualifications of teachers hired and retained.
Because of these differences in licensing standards and enforcement, in 1994,
more than 80% of high school teachers of academic courses in Wisconsin and Minnesota
had fully met state certification requirements and had at least a college major in the field
they teach. Four other states--Connecticut, Iowa, Montana, and North Dakota--reported
similarly well-qualified teaching forces in that year. The comparable proportion of
teachers with full state certification and a major in their field in Louisiana was only 64%.
(An additional six states had fewer than two-thirds of their teachers similarly prepared.)
Interestingly, students in Minnesota and Wisconsin have typically scored at the
top of the distribution on national assessments of reading and mathematics, along with
the four other states who share similarly well-qualified teachers. Together these states
held six of the top ten spots in the national rankings in reading and mathematics in 1994
and 1996. Students in Louisiana have typically scored near the bottom of the NAEP
distributions--no higher than 47th of 51 states in any of the assessments reported by
1996. The other six states with similar proportions of teachers holding a license and a
major in their field all fall in the bottom quartile of states in the national rankings of
average student achievement scores (Campbell et al., 1996; Darling-Hammond, 1997a,
pp. 13, 26; Reese et al., 1997). Some have quipped that state-level student achievement
in the U.S. can be best predicted by proximity to Canada--which in turn may be a proxy
for variations among states in factors ranging from demographics (e.g., student poverty,
parent education, and race) to political culture and spending on education. The
distributions of scores described above could indeed partly support the "Canada
hypothesis," which I test below.
States also differ greatly in the levels of funding they allocate to preservice and
inservice teacher education, in the standards they apply to teacher education institutions
and to schools, in the types and extent of professional learning opportunities and the
incentives for professional study they make available to educators, and the extent to
which they require or fund induction supports for beginning teachers. To illustrate these
differences, in 1997 only three states required professional accreditation for schools of
education and only nine funded induction programs that provided a structured program
of mentoring for beginning teachers, including trained, state-funded mentors. Student
teaching requirements ranged from 5 weeks in Massachusetts to 18 weeks in Wisconsin.
As of 1994, the proportions of academic high school teachers teaching with both a
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license and a major in their field ranged from a low of 52% to a high of 85% across
states. The proportions of mathematics teachers teaching with less than a minor in the
field ranged from a low of 9% to a high of 56% (Darling-Hammond, 1997a, Appendices
A and B). This means that a student in one state might have only one chance in ten of
being taught by an out-of-field teacher, while a student in another state might have more
than a 50% chance of being taught a subject by a teacher who is not adequately prepared
in that subject.
In every category of possible investment in teachers' knowledge and in every area
in which standards for teaching are set (e.g., licensing, accreditation, advanced
certification, on- the-job evaluation), there are substantial differences in the policies and
practices employed by states. States with some of the highest, most consistently enforced
standards for teachers have tended to cluster in the upper Midwest (Minnesota,
Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, Missouri, Montana, Kansas). States with the
lowest and least well-enforced standards have tended to include many in the southeast
(Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina) and in remote locations (Alaska,
Hawaii). Some states have developed relatively ambitious standards for teaching but do
not enforce them for large numbers of candidates (California, New York). Others have
made major investments in preservice and inservice teacher development in recent years
that have affected a substantial share of the teaching force (e.g., Connecticut, Kentucky,
North Carolina, West Virginia). The possible outcomes of these cross-state differences
are discussed below.
Trends in Student Achievement: Policy Hypotheses
In their book, The Manufactured Crisis, Berliner and Biddle (1995) noted that
while U.S. secondary school students tend to score below the median in international
assessments of mathematics and science, students in some states score as high as those
in the top-ranked countries in the world while students in others score among the
bottom-ranked. U.S. students also perform relatively better in some fields than others.
For example, U.S. students have compared favorably with students in other countries in
reading and at about the median in general science. However, in mathematics and
physical science, U.S. students do much more poorly: In the most recent international
assessments, 8th graders ranked 18th out of 25 countries that met the TIMSS guidelines
in mathematics and 17th out of 25 countries in physics. Twelfth graders did even more
poorly (Darling-Hammond, 1997a, pp. 28-29).
Although it may be purely coincidental, these differences in rankings are similar to
the differences in teacher qualifications across these fields. Since the early 1980s, the
U.S. has made major investments in teacher preparation in the area of reading. Not only
are almost all elementary school teachers fully certified (more than 95%), an increasing
number have been prepared in programs that have a strong emphasis on training to teach
reading; there has also been a large increase in the number of reading specialists
throughout the 1980s. In general science and biology, where U.S. middle and high
school students scored at about the median on the most recent international assessments,
there are relatively few uncertified or out-of-field secondary teachers (about 18% of the
total). By contrast, in mathematics and physical science, where U.S. students fall well
below the international norms, teacher qualifications are much weaker. In addition to the
fact that most U.S. elementary teachers have had little background in mathematics, about
30% of U.S. mathematics teachers and 50% of physical science teachers at the high
school level have been teaching with less than a minor in the field, many of them
uncertified (Darling-Hammond, 1997, p.28 and Appendix Table 3). While these are only
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casual observations, other evidence point in similar directions.
Long-term Achievement Trends by State
Not only do U.S. students appear to perform least well in the fields in which U.S.
teachers are least well prepared, the states that repeatedly lead the nation in student
achievement in mathematics and reading have among the most highly qualified teachers
in the country and have made longstanding investments in the quality of teaching (see
Figures 1-3). The three long-time leaders--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. 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 licenses. Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and Wisconsin have
among the lowest rates of out-of-field teaching in the country and among the highest
proportions of teachers holding both certification and a major in the field they teach.
(Note 2) Maine joined these states in requiring certification plus a disciplinary major
when it revised its licensing standards in 1988.
These states have also been leaders in redefining teacher education and licensing.
Minnesota was the first state to develop performance-based standards for licensing
teachers and approving schools of education during the mid-1980s and has developed a
beginning teacher mentoring program in the years since (for details, see
Darling-Hammond, Wise, & Klein, 1995). Wisconsin was one of the first states to
require high school teachers to earn a major in their subject area in addition to
completing extensive coursework in a teacher preparation program. Thus, teacher
education in Wisconsin is typically a four-and-a- half to five year process. Maine,
Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota have all incorporated the rigorous new standards
developed by the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium
(INTASC) (Note 3) into their licensing standards and have encouraged universities to
pilot performance-based assessments of teaching using these standards.
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Figure 1. State Trends in Mathematics Achievement, Grade 4 (NAEP scores,
Source: National Center for Education Statistics, NAEP 1996 Mathematics Report Card for the
Nation and the States, Table 2.2, p. 28.
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One can still wonder whether policies are the source of these states' strong student
outcomes or whether the "Canada effect" (general education spending combined with
low rates of student poverty) is responsible. Among these six states, four spent below the
per pupil national average in current expenditures in 1995, and the other two spent just
above the average. All, however, spent a larger percentage of their expenditures on
instruction than the national average. While these states did have a lower proportion of
low-income students than the national average, none fell near the tail of the distribution.
There were at least twelve states with lower proportions of low-income students who
scored less well on the NAEP than any of these states. However, the relative
contribution of student population characteristics and school inputs is an important one
to pursue further. That question is raised again below.
State Achievement Gains
Another important question is whether investments in teaching could raise
achievement in states that do not have a long history of this sort. Over the last decade of
reform, a few states undertook major initiatives aimed at improving the quality of
teaching. From a survey of state policies, we identified five states that enacted unusually
comprehensive reforms of teaching during the late 1980s and 1990s: Connecticut and
North Carolina enacted the most ambitious teacher legislation of any states nationally,
followed by Arkansas, Kentucky, and West Virginia, which also initiated multi-faceted
reforms of teacher preparation, licensing, professional development, and compensation,
accompanied by substantial investments in teacher learning.
Of the 50 states, North Carolina and Connecticut undertook the most substantial
and systemic investments in teaching during the mid-1980s. Both of these states, which
share relatively large high-poverty student populations, coupled major statewide
increases in teacher salaries and improvements in teacher salary equity with intensive
recruitment efforts and initiatives to improve preservice teacher education, licensing,
beginning teacher mentoring, and ongoing professional development. Since then, North
Carolina has posted the largest student achievement gains in mathematics and reading of
any state in the nation, now scoring well above the national average in 4th grade reading
and mathematics, although it entered the 1990s near the bottom of the state rankings.
Connecticut has also posted significant gains, becoming one of the top scoring states in
the nation in mathematics and reading (ranked first at the 4th grade level in mathematics
and reading and in the top five at the 8th grade level), despite an increase in the
proportion of low-income and limited English proficient students during that time.
North Carolina's reforms, launched with omnibus legislation in 1983, did many
things simultaneously: (a) boosted salaries in the mid-1980s and again in the 1990s, (b)
created a career development program that rewarded teachers for greater education and
for achieving National Board Certification, (c) launched an aggressive fellowship
program to recruit hundreds of able high school students into teacher preparation each
year by entirely subsidizing their college education, (d) required schools of education to
become professionally accredited by the National Council for the Accreditation of
Teacher Education (NCATE), (e) increased licensing requirements for teachers and
principals, (f) invested in improvements in teacher education curriculum, (g) created
professional development academies and a North Carolina Center for the Advancement
of Teaching, (h) developed teacher development networks like the National Writing
Project and an analogous set of professional development initiatives in mathematics, (i)
launched a beginning teacher mentoring program, and (j) introduced the most
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wide-ranging set of incentives in the nation for teachers to pursue National Board
certification. North Carolina now boasts more Board-certified teachers than any other
state. The state was recognized in the recent National Education Goals Panel report
(NEGP, 1998) for having made among the greatest gains in teacher mentoring of
beginning teachers as well as the greatest achievement gains for students.
These extensive investments in teaching occurred alongside sizable investments in
early childhood education and general K-12 spending increases which lowered
pupil/teacher ratios slightly. In the early 1990s, new curriculum standards were
introduced and accompanied by an extensive program of professional development for
teachers statewide. In 1993, the state enacted an assessment system linked to the
curriculum standards and substantially aligned to the NAEP tests. This assessment
program, which was implemented in 1994-95, occurred too late to account for most of
the gains in achievement. Its effects would require several years to appear, but it may
have had some modest influence on the gains after 1994.
A recent analysis of student achievement gains on the National Assessment of
Educational Progress (Grissmer & Flanagan, 1998) attributed much of the NAEP score
increase in North Carolina between 1990 and 1996 to the test-based accountability
system. However, the new standards and assessments were not on-line until 1995, and
the rewards and sanctions component of the accountability system was not enacted until
1997, so it was clearly not a factor in these trends. Grissmer and Flanagan also note the
state's large-scale investments during the 1980s in early childhood education, reduced
class sizes, teacher salary increases, teacher education upgrades, and extensive
professional development. All of these factors could have influenced the achievement
gains observed during this time period.
North Carolina's 1997 Educational Excellence Act furthered efforts to upgrade the
quality of teacher preparation and teaching quality, pouring hundreds of millions of
dollars into a new set of reforms. The Act created a professional standards board for
teaching and required that all colleges of education create professional development
school partnerships to provide the sites for year-long student teaching practicums. It also
funded a more intensive beginning teacher mentoring program, further upgraded
licensing standards, created pay incentives for teachers who pursue master's degrees and
National Board certification, and authorized funds to raise teacher salaries to the national
average. It will be useful to watch future trends in the state.
Connecticut's strategies were similar. The state's 1986 Educational Enhancement
Act spent over $300 million to boost minimum beginning teacher salaries in an
equalizing fashion that made it possible for low-wealth districts to compete in the
market for qualified teachers. At the same time, the state raised licensing standards by
requiring a major in the discipline to be taught plus extensive knowledge of teaching and
learning as part of preparation; instituted performance-based examinations in subject
matter and knowledge of teaching as a basis for receiving a license; created a
state-funded mentoring program which supported trained mentors for beginning teachers
in their first year on the job; and created a sophisticated assessment program using
state-trained assessors to determine which first-year teachers could continue in teaching.
An analysis of the outcomes of this initiative found that it eliminated teacher shortages
and emergency hiring, even in the cities, and created surpluses of teachers within three
years of its passage (Connecticut State Department of Education, 1991).
Connecticut also required teachers to earn a master's degree in education for a
continuing license and supported new, content- based professional development
strategies in universities and school districts. In a National Education Goals Panel (1998)
report highlighting Connecticut's strong performance and large gains in mathematics,
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state officials pointed to the salary increases and teacher education investments as
central to their progress. These investments include an intensive professional
development program in mathematics, science, and technology which, since 1983, has
offered 4-week institutes with follow-up support to elementary, middle, and high school
The state has more recently invested in new curriculum frameworks and a
statewide assessment system for students using extended performance tasks and
constructed response items intended to measure higher order thinking and performance
skills. Launched in 1995, this system, which is tied to statewide reporting of scores and
substantial new professional development, may support future gains in student
achievement. In addition, the state has further extended its performance-based teacher
licensing system to incorporate the new INTASC standards and to develop portfolio
assessments modeled on those of the National Board for Professional Teaching
Standards (NBPTS). The new teacher assessments, which are tightly linked to the
student standards, require beginning teachers to demonstrate that they can implement
content-based teaching standards within their subject matter field and can analyze
student work and learning. Finally, as part of ongoing teacher education reforms, the
state agency is supporting the creation of professional development schools linked to
local universities as sites for clinical training of entering teachers.
The Connecticut and North Carolina reforms both featured substantial investments
in pre-service and in-service education for teachers linked to standards that incorporate
much of the current knowledge base about teaching and learning (those of NBPTS,
INTASC, and/or NCATE). While the reforms also included salary increases, the dollars
were linked to improved quality via heightened licensing standards. Both states sought
to increase not only the quality of preparation for teachers, but also the consistency with
which they enforced their standards, sharply reducing the hiring of unlicensed and
Kentucky also realized substantial achievement gains during the 1990s, after
undertaking perhaps the most extensive systemic education reforms of any state in the
1980s. These included major equalization of school funding along with large increases
in teacher salaries and overall spending; changes in school organization, including
multi-age primary grade classrooms; investments in early childhood education; the
introduction of standards and curriculum frameworks, along with portfolios and
performance assessments. Changes in teacher education and licensing accompanied
these reforms, including the adoption of the INTASC licensing standards developed by a
consortium of more than 30 states, the introduction of new licensing tests and teacher
education requirements, incentives for colleges of education to meet national
professional accreditation standards; and massive investments in professional
All of these efforts undoubtedly combined to produce the steep gains in
achievement experienced in Kentucky. By 1994, data from the Schools and Staffing
Surveys showed that Kentucky teachers were much better prepared in terms of their
content and teaching coursework background than in 1988 and had experienced more
extensive professional development than teachers in any other state (Darling-Hammond,
1997a). A recent survey of Kentucky teachers also found that more than 80% of
beginners who graduated from Kentucky colleges of education felt well-prepared for
virtually all aspects of their jobs (Kentucky Institute for Educational Research, 1997), in
contrast to reports about teacher education from previous studies elsewhere. Although
somewhat less ambitious in their reforms, Arkansas and West Virginia also raised
teacher salaries and licensing requirements and required national accreditation of
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education schools during the late 1980s or early 1990s, while investing in more
professional development for in-service teachers. These states also realized steeper gains
in student achievement than the national average.
In a recent report, Grissmer and Flanagan (1998) focused on Texas and North
Carolina for their large gains in average student achievement. They attributed Texas'
gains primarily to the state's accountability system, although they also mention its shifts
of resources to more disadvantaged students through school finance equalization, class
size reductions, and the creation of full day kindergarten. The school funding
investments that occurred in the 1980s and were continued into the following decade
may indeed have made some difference in Texas students' achievement in the 1990s.
However, the state's new assessment and accountability system was not initiated until
1994 and not fully implemented until 1995-96, so it could not have accounted for gains
between 1990 and 1996.
Texas was not included in the above analysis of state test score gains because it
was not one of the states that made large comprehensive investments in teaching during
the 1980s. (Texas did make some noteworthy investments in teacher salaries and
professional development in the 1990s.) In addition, however, there are questions about
the stability of scores in Texas and the extent to which the posted gains are real. First,
Texas included fewer than 45% of its students with disabilities in the testing pool, a
much smaller share than most states (NCES, 1997, Table D3). Excessive exclusions of
low-scoring students from the testing pool can cause gain scores to appear much larger
than they would otherwise be. In addition, recent studies in Texas have raised concerns
that much of the ostensible gain registered by African American and Latino students has
been a function of grade retentions and dropouts or pushouts, which have increased
substantially in recent years. These practices also make average test scores look higher
by eliminating lower scoring students from the testing pool (Haney, 1999; Kurtz, 1999;
Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, 1999). Assuming that some of
the gains in Texas are not spurious, however, it is worth noting that, in addition to the
equalization of funding and investments in kindergarten and reduced class sizes, Texas
was among the few states recognized by the National Education Goals Panel (1998) for
large gains since the early 1990s in the proportion of beginning teachers receiving
mentoring from expert veterans. Texas has also had a growing number of 5-year teacher
education programs in response to an earlier reform eliminating teacher education
majors at the undergraduate level.
State reform strategies during the 1980s that did not include substantial efforts to
improve the nature and quality of classroom work have shown little success in raising
student achievement, especially if the reforms relied primarily on student testing rather
than investments in teaching. For example, the first two states to organize their reforms
around new student testing systems were Georgia, with its Quality Basic Education Act
(QBE) of 1985, and South Carolina, with its Education Improvement Act of 1984. These
states developed extensive testing systems coupled with rewards and sanctions for
students, teachers, and schools. Although both states also mandated tests for teachers,
they did not link these assessments to emerging knowledge about teaching or to new
learning standards, nor did they invest in improving schools of education or ongoing
professional development. Few districts in either state require teachers to hold a degree
in the field to be taught and full state certification as a condition of hiring. As Figures
1-3 show, student achievement in mathematics has been flat in these states while
achievement in reading has declined. Since 1996, Georgia has launched an ambitious
series of reforms through its P-16 Council to upgrade the quality of teacher preparation
and professional development and to raise licensing standards, as well as to recruit high
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ability students to teaching. Future analyses might examine whether these moves have
made a difference.
There are competing hypotheses that could explain these across-state differences
in achievement trajectories. One could speculate that student testing and curriculum
changes are not in themselves powerful enough reforms to overcome the depressing
effects on teaching quality of low standards for teacher education, licensing, and hiring,
and the resulting large numbers of under-prepared teachers. On the other hand, one can
argue that variables like student poverty and language background, rather than
conditions that might influence the quality of teaching, are the determining factors in
student achievement and that the critical differences between high- and low-achieving
states are differences in their student populations.
It is interesting to compare the student achievement levels and trajectories for
some of these states in comparison to geographically proximate states with similar
student populations that have taken very different approaches to teaching policy. While
the comparisons in Table 1 are only suggestive, they demonstrate that student
achievement cannot be assumed to be only or primarily a function of demographics.
Although the states that have aggressively pursued investments in teacher knowledge
and skills have equal or higher levels of student poverty than nearby states that pursued
other, distinctively different reform strategies, their students now achieve at higher
levels. Even though all of these states increased teacher salaries during the 1990s, those
that insisted on higher standards for teacher education and licensing realized gains that
were not realized by states that maintained or lowered their standards for entering
State teacher salaries, student poverty, and student achievement
NAEP 4th grade mathematics scores, 1996
% of students
Connecticut 232 + 5 18.6 $28,195 $56,189
New Jersey 227 + 0 14.6 $28,424 $58,208
Carolina 224 +11 18.4 $20,077 $38,733
Georgia 215 + 0 18.5 $20,065 $42,134
Virginia 223 + 8 22.0 $21,466 $36,378
Virginia 223 + 2 12.6 $23,098 $38,328
Data on student achievement and poverty status from NAEP 1996 Mathematics Report
Card for the States, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, 1997, pp. 28, 139.
Data on teachers' salaries from NCES, America's Teachers: Profile of a Profession,
1993-94, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, 1996, Table A6.2.
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For example, with their industrialized urban areas and affluent suburbs,
Connecticut and New Jersey are demographically and economically similar states,
although Connecticut has noticeably higher rates of student poverty. Despite a more
affluent student population, New Jersey's students did less well than those in
Connecticut on the NAEP 4th grade mathematics assessments in 1996, and, in contrast
to Connecticut's students, they have not improved in recent years. Whereas Connecticut
raised teachers' salaries and equalized districts' abilities to pay for qualified teachers,
New Jersey decreased its requirements for teacher preparation and licensing at the end of
the 1980s, reducing the amount of education coursework for entry into teaching to a
maximum of 18 undergraduate credit hours and encouraging the more extensive hiring
of alternative certification candidates prepared in a short summer program. These
less-prepared teachers are primarily hired in low-wealth city school districts that have
had radically lower revenues and salary schedules than other parts of the state.
While New Jersey's average teachers' salaries are the highest in the country, even
higher than Connecticut's, New Jersey's salary increases were not tied to improvements
in the qualifications of teachers or to equalization in districts' ability to pay for qualified
teachers. New Jersey also lacks the rigorous licensing examinations, requirements for a
major in the field and a masters in education, and state-funded mentoring for beginning
teachers that Connecticut enacted in 1986. Compared to Connecticut, New Jersey has
much lower rates of beginning teachers receiving mentoring and induction, much lower
proportions of districts insisting on rigorous hiring standards, much lower proportions of
teachers receiving professional development, much lower rates of teachers holding full
certification plus a major in the field, and much higher rates of out-of-field teaching in
every subject matter field (Appendix B, Tables 1-5, Darling-Hammond, 1997a).
In the same fashion, North Carolina's students now perform substantially better on
the NAEP assessments than those in demographically similar Georgia, which North
Carolina lagged behind in 1990. Although the states raised salaries during the 1980s and
early '90s to comparable levels, Georgia did not raise standards for teacher preparation
and licensing or invest heavily in teacher development at the same time. While North
Carolina increased both the education and subject matter requirements for teacher
preparation, introduced rigorous teacher examinations for licensing, and required
national accreditation for all of its education schools during the 1980s, Georgia did little
to increase expectations for either preservice or inservice preparation during those years.
In addition to having had more extensive training to meet certification standards, North
Carolina teachers are much more likely than their peers in Georgia to have had
mentoring as beginning teachers and professional development opportunities as
And very poor West Virginia now ranks as well in elementary mathematics as its
neighbor Virginia, whose students are much more affluent. Virginia, with its higher cost
of living, pays its teachers more. However, West Virginia's efforts to raise salaries were
accompanied by efforts to improve teacher education and licensing standards. All of
West Virginia's teacher education programs must now meet national accreditation
standards--a much higher set of requirements than those in Virginia, which lowered
standards for education programs and licensing during the 1980s to among the lowest in
the country. Like New Jersey, Virginia reduced the requirements for coursework on
teaching and learning in undergraduate programs, while West Virginia raised its
standards. West Virginia introduced an ambitious program of professional development
even before it launched its new curriculum frameworks in the mid-1990s, and enacted a
mentoring program for beginning teachers. Despite its relative wealth, Virginia hires
many more unlicensed new teachers than West Virginia and its districts are less likely to
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insist on rigorous hiring standards.
These kinds of contrasts can be seen in many comparisons of geographically
proximate, demographically similar states that have taken different approaches to the
issue of teacher investments over the last decade. Policies that jointly raise salaries and
standards may offer particularly high leverage on teaching quality. It is interesting to
note that, like states that introduced testing without making investments in teaching,
those that have raised salaries alone, without raising standards for preparation and
licensing or investing in professional development, seem not to have realized the
benefits of improved student outcomes. While interesting, these observations of
individual state cases could be idiosyncratic. An important question is whether similar
patterns exist when viewed from a national perspective.
A National View of Teacher Qualifications and Student Achievement
To examine further the relative contributions of teaching policies and student
characteristics to student achievement, this analysis uses data on public school teacher
qualifications and other school inputs available from the 1993-94 Schools and Staffing
Surveys (SASS) and data on student achievement and student characteristics from the
1990, 1992, 1994, and 1996 assessments in reading and mathematics administered by
the National Assessment of Educational Progress. These data are the basis for regression
analyses of school resource variables on student achievement scores to examine whether
teacher quality indicators, as well as other school inputs, are related to student
achievement at the state level, after controlling for such student characteristics as
poverty and language background.
The Database The 1993-94 SASS database includes linked surveys of 65,000
teachers (52,000 public and 13,000 private); 13,000 school principals (9,500 public and
3,500 private); and 5,600 school districts. SASS is designed to provide reliable estimates
of the characteristics of schools and educators at the national and state levels. It also
includes information from individual teachers, school principals, and districts about
salaries and compensation policies, induction policies, school climate and context
variables (e.g., time to work with other teachers, teacher involvement in
decision-making), professional development support, teachers' views of teaching, and
their plans to remain in the profession. These analyses use the following data derived
from the public school teachers' questionnaire: data on teachers' qualifications (teachers'
degrees, majors, certification status), teaching assignments, and average class size. Also
included in the analysis are data from the public school district questionnaire on district
hiring policies (whether districts require, as a condition of hiring, full certification,
graduation from an approved teacher education program, or a college major or minor in
the field to be taught) and salary schedules (minimum and maximum salaries) as
reported by district officials. Salary schedule data are more appropriate for gauging
attractions to teaching than average salary data, which do not control for differential
levels of experience and education across states. All of the SASS data were aggregated
to the state level.
Teacher quality variables constructed from the SASS data include the proportion
of "well-qualified teachers," defined as the proportion holding state certification and the
equivalent of a major (either an undergraduate major or masters degree) in the field
taught. For elementary teachers, the equivalent of a major is an elementary education
degree for generalists who teach multiple subjects to the same group of students or a
degree in the field taught for specialists (e.g. reading, mathematics or mathematics
education, special education). The proportion of teachers who are "fully certified"
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includes teachers with standard or regular certification and new teachers on probationary
certificates who have completed all requirements for a license except for the completion
of the probationary period (usually 2 or 3 years of beginning teaching). The proportion
of teachers who are "less than fully certified" includes teachers with no certificate and
those with provisional, temporary, or emergency certification.
Additional data on each state, including policies regarding teacher education and
licensing (number of weeks of student teaching required, presence of a professional
standards board, percentage of teacher education institutions that are NCATE
accredited), were collected directly from states and professional associations (see
Darling-Hammond, 1997a, Appendix A). State school spending data (current per pupil
expenditures) are from the Common Core of Data (NCES, 1995).
Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) include state
average achievement scores for students in mathematics at the 4th grade level in 1990
and 1996 and at the 8th grade level in 1992 and 1996, as well as data on state average
achievement scores for students in reading at the 4th grade level in 1992 and 1994
(Campbell, Donahue, Reese, & Phillips, 1996) and student poverty rates (Reese, Miller,
Mazzeo, & Dossey, 1997).
Limitations There are a number of limitations that pertain to the data set and the
analyses. First, the NAEP data derive from tests that do not measure all of the valued
outcomes of schooling held by parents, teachers, and schools. They cannot represent
everything that schools do or should do. In addition, state scores and changes in average
scores on these measures are sensitive to differences in the population of students taking
the tests, including decisions about which students will be excluded from testing and
differences across states in the extent to which populations are represented in school (as
a function of school- age population characteristics, dropout rates and patterns, and other
Finally, the level of aggregation necessarily influences the interpretations of
results. Aggregating data to the state level produces different results than one would find
if one looked at similar kinds of data at the individual student, teacher, school, or district
level. The direction of the differences cannot be predicted with certainty (Ferguson and
Ladd, 1996). While, on one hand, the possibility of greater variability or noise exists in
disaggregated analyses, it is possible that omitted variables may bias the coefficients of
school input variables upward when the data are aggregated to the district or state level
(Hanushek, Rivkin, and Taylor, 1995). Although the results of more and less aggregated
specifications can be consistent (for example, Ferguson and Ladd's (1996) Alabama
analysis found comparable influences of teacher quality and class sizes on student
achievement when measured at the student and the district levels), this may not always
occur. In particular, the size of relationships found between variables measured at the
state level cannot be assumed to represent the effect sizes one would find in a classroom
level analysis. For the purposes of assessing broad policy influences at the state level, it
is nonetheless reasonable to examine state-level data as a gauge of major trends when
other confirming and disconfirming evidence is available to supplement the analysis.
The Findings All analyses include public schools and teachers only. Although the
sample includes all states participating in state NAEP and thus is not a representative
sample from which one would draw population inferences, I report p-values as an aid to
readers who wish to use them to interpret the relative sizes of relationships and the
probabilities of a Type I error. Before constructing the multivariate analyses, initial
bivariate correlations of school resource variables and student demographic variables
with state average student test scores were conducted to examine the relationships
23 of 44
among variables and to select variables for inclusion in the multivariate equations. These
analyses confirmed several findings reported elsewhere:
Student characteristics such as poverty, non-English language status, and
minority status are negatively correlated with student outcomes, and usually
significantly so. These student characteristics are also significantly and negatively
correlated with the qualifications of teachers; that is the less socially advantaged
the students, the less likely teachers are to hold full certification and a degree in
their field and the more likely they are to have entered teaching without
Student characteristics are generally not significantly correlated with state
per-pupil spending or with teachers' salary schedules, with the exception that
salary schedules are higher in states with larger percentages of minority and LEP
(limited English proficient) students. Salary levels show an insignificant, negative
relationship with levels of student poverty.
Teacher quality characteristics such as certification status and degree in the field
to be taught are very significantly and positively correlated with student
outcomes. Characteristics such as education level (percentage of teachers with
master's degrees) show positive but less strong relationships with education
Per pupil spending (measured as current expenditures) shows a significant
positive relationship with student outcomes in 4th grade reading in both years,
but no relationship with student outcomes in mathematics. This may be because
the spending measure incorporates resources spent not only on teacher salaries and
professional development but also on class sizes and other resources that may
especially support students in the early grades as they are learning to read.
Although salaries and spending are strongly related to one another (p < .01),
teacher salary levels, unadjusted for cost of living differences, are not correlated
with student outcomes when aggregated to the state level.
Other school resources, such as pupil-teacher ratios, class sizes, and the
proportion of all school staff who are teachers, show very weak and rarely
significant relationships to student achievement when they are aggregated to the
Partial correlations confirm a strong, significant relationship of teacher quality
variables to student achievement even after controlling for student poverty and for
student language background (LEP status) in (see Table 2 and Figure 4). The most
consistent highly significant predictor of student achievement in reading and
mathematics in each year tested is the proportion of well-qualified teachers in a state:
those with full certification and a major in the field they teach (r between .61 and .80,
p<.001). The strongest, consistently negative predictors of student achievement, also
significant in almost all cases, are the proportions of new teachers who are uncertified (r
between -.40 and -.63, p<.05) and the proportions of teachers who hold less than a minor
in the field they teach (r between -.33 and -.56, p<.05). General spending and salary
variables, along with class sizes, are not significantly related to achievement once
student characteristics are taken into account. It should be noted, however, that this
analysis did not take into account cost-of-living differentials that may affect both salaries
and spending levels; controlling for such differentials could produce a different set of
results with respect to these variables.
24 of 44
Partial Correlations (controlling for student poverty) between
Selected Teacher Quality Variables and Student Achievement on
the National Assessment of Educational Progress
% of teachers
full certification and
a major in their
.71*** .61*** .75*** .67*** .80*** .75***
% of teachers out of
field (with less than
a minor in the field
-.48** -.44** -.32 -.42** -.56** -.33*
% of all teachers
fully certified .36* .20 .38* .28 .57*** .41*
% of all teachers
less than fully
-.36* -.23 -.33* -.28 -.55*** -.50*
% of new entrants to
teaching who are
-.51** -.39* .43** -.38* -.44** -.47**
% of all newly hired
teachers uncertified -.40** -.41** -.53*** -.49** -.59*** -.63***
Per pupil spending .32 .28 .19 .29 .24 .27
Pupil: teacher ratio .03 .22 .09 .12 .08 .08
Class size -.03 .21 -.04 -.00 .08 .13
*p<.10 **p<.05 ***p<.01
25 of 44
Figure 4. Partial Correlations (controlling for student poverty) between Selected
Teacher Quality Variables and Student Achievement on the National Assessment of
Ordinary least squares regression analyses were performed to create the most
parsimonious specification of a hyperplane of best fit with student achievement data.
Because of the small sample size (n = 44 states participating in the state NAEP), the
number of independent variables in each equation was minimized to preserve the
necessary degrees of freedom (see Table 3). Variables were selected according to three
criteria: to examine relationships often tested in other studies, to maximize explanatory
power, and to avoid problems of multicollinearity. Teacher quality variables included the
percentage of all teachers with full certification and a major in the field and the
percentage of uncertified newly hired teachers, because these exhibit large influences on
achievement, and the percentage of teachers with master's degrees, because this is a
frequently examined teacher quality variable. Class size was also included because it is
commonly found to influence achievement. Spending and salary variables were not
included in the final estimations because they showed little relationship to student
achievement in preliminary estimates. Because the percentage of minority students is
26 of 44
Analysis of Policy Relationships
Clearly, in any analysis such as this, the variables that can be measured are only
proxies for the actual conditions or traits that may matter to student learning. In this case,
a large number of variables associated with teacher quality appear to bear a significant
relationship to student achievement. These include various ways of measuring state
certification status (the proportions of teachers with full certification, less than full
certification, and no certification) and disciplinary preparation (e.g., a major or minor in
the field to be taught). Given the differences in licensing standards and teacher education
programs across states, these proxies are fairly crude ones; nonetheless, they seem to
indicate that teachers' knowledge, skills, and preparation matter for student achievement.
The findings are similar to those of several other studies described earlier (Ferguson,
1991; Ferguson and Ladd, 1996; Fetler, 1999; Fuller, 1999; Strauss and Sawyer, 1986) in
finding much stronger influences on student achievement of variables measuring teacher
knowledge and skills than of variables like teacher experience, class sizes, or
pupil-teacher ratios, which are generally found to have noticeable but smaller effects on
student achievement where data are aggregated to the school or district levels.
The strength of the "well-qualified teacher" variable may be partly due to the fact
that it is a proxy for both strong disciplinary knowledge (a major in the field taught) and
substantial knowledge of education (full certification). If the two kinds of knowledge are
interdependent as suggested in much of the literature, it makes sense that this variable
would be more powerful than either subject matter knowledge or teaching knowledge
alone. It is also possible that this variable captures other features of the state policy
environment including general investments in, and commitment to, education, as well as
aspects of the regulatory system for education, such as the extent to which standards are
rigorous and the extent to which they are enforced. Recall that some states require
teachers to acquire a subject matter major as well as extensive education training in
human development and learning and in the methods of teaching in their field, while
other states require much less extensive preparation in the content area as well as
teaching and learning. In addition, some states are vigilant in enforcing their certification
standards while others are not.
Teaching Standards and Other Policy Strategies
Finally, there may be unmeasured correlations between the extent to which states
enact and enforce high standards for teachers and the extent to which they have enacted
other policies that are supportive of public schools. Although it does not appear that
teaching standards are strongly related to investments regarding class sizes or to overall
education spending, it is possible that there are other factors influencing student
achievement which generally co-exist with teacher quality and which were unmeasured in
these estimates. Since most of the states which ranked among the highest-scoring on the
NAEP examinations are strong local control states that have traditionally not exerted
much control over school decision making, there are relatively few policy areas in which
they have been active. Perhaps the relative lack of policy intervention is itself a support
for student learning, leaving educators free of regulations that might force greater
attention to procedures than learning. Another possibility is the influence of these states'
small school and district sizes, a factor that has been identified in much research as
contributing to student learning (for reviews, see Green & Stevens, 1988; Howley, 1989).
In another analysis, Feistritzer (1993) has pointed out that most of the top-scoring states
27 of 44
on NAEP have very small average school sizes relative to national norms.
One area in which policies have not been positively correlated, however, is the
extent to which states engaged in statewide student testing in the 1980s and the extent to
which they enacted high standards for teachers. Among the 12 highest- scoring states in
8th grade mathematics in 1996 (10 of which had particularly high licensing standards in
the form of subject matter and teaching coursework requirements), none had mandatory
statewide testing programs in place during the 1980s or early 1990s. Only two of the top
12 states in 4th grade mathematics had statewide testing programs in place prior to 1995.
By contrast, among the 12 lowest-scoring states (8 of which had particularly large rates of
out-of-field and uncertified teachers), 10 had extensive student testing programs in place
prior to 1990, some of which were associated with highly specified state curricula and an
extensive menu of rewards and sanctions.
There are several possible interpretations of the almost inverse relationship
between statewide testing policies and both teaching standards and student performance:
It may be that states with low student performance and less qualified teachers were more
likely to seek education improvements through student testing strategies and curriculum
controls. It may also be that states have tended toward different theories of reform, with
some investing more in testing and others in teaching. It is possible that regional
differences in education investments and centralization happen to be correlated with
policies regarding both testing and teacher investments (with Southern states that tend to
score lowest investing heavily in curriculum and testing controls, while Northeastern and
North Central states invest more in teacher education and less in curriculum controls).
The lack of apparent relationship between testing programs and student
achievement might be because, without other investments to improve teaching and
schooling, tests alone do not transform learning. Another possibility is that the kinds of
basic skills tests and curricula enacted in many states during the 1980s were at odds with
the NAEP assessments which increasingly seek to measure higher-order skills and
performance abilities. It may be worth noting that most of the high-scoring and
fast-gaining states discussed earlier instituted curriculum and testing reforms in the
mid-1990s that were linked to the national student standards that guide NAEP and were
much more performance-oriented than the basic skills tests that predominated in state
assessment systems of the 1980s. While there is little evidence yet of the effects of these
assessment programs on student learning, policy analysts may want to watch to see
whether the types of tests matter for broad student outcomes as well as whether and how
the supports that do or do not accompany testing programs (professional development,
funding equalization, investments in additional supports for students ranging from early
childhood education to special services of various kinds) make a difference.
Policies that May Influence Teachers' Qualifications
Another set of questions has to do with whether there are particular policy
strategies used by states or districts that are associated with the preparation and hiring of
better qualified teachers. The SASS data set and additional data collected directly from
states allowed us to examine several policies in this regard.
Teacher education accreditation National data from the National Association of
State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification and from the National Council for
the Accreditation of Teacher Education provided the percentage of teacher education
institutions that were accredited by NCATE. NCATE-accreditation might lead to higher
overall standards for teachers because NCATE standards revisions in 1988 and 1993
required higher admissions standards, evidence of greater subject matter preparation, and
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stronger rationales for the content of education coursework than those often emphasized
by state approval systems.
Standard setting and enforcement mechanisms The state survey tracked the
presence of a state professional standards board for teaching, analogous to the boards that
govern other professions, which might enact and enforce higher standards. Since any
policies for teacher education adopted by such a board would require several years to take
broad effect, the enactment of a standards board prior to 1990 is the measure we used for
examining influences on teacher qualifications in 1994.
District hiring standards SASS data provided the percentage of school districts in
each state requiring each of the following as conditions for hiring: full state certification,
graduation from an approved teacher education program, and a college major or minor in
the field to be taught. There was wide variation across the states in the degree to which
districts looked for evidence of these kinds of teacher qualifications as part of the hiring
Many more fine-grained variables, such as the content of licensing standards and
the nature of teacher education programs, could not be tested with these data.
Nonetheless, the results suggest some interesting associations. As shown in Table 4, the
strongest predictor of the percentage of well-qualified teachers (that is, teachers with both
a major and full certification in their field) is the percentage of teacher education
institutions in a state that meet national accreditation standards through NCATE (p <
Relationship Between Professional Accreditation
And Teacher Qualifications
% of math
.42* .49** .36* -.37* -.37*
The proportion of NCATE-accredited institutions is also significantly and
negatively correlated with the proportion of English and mathematics teachers who are
"out-of-field" (i.e., have less than a minor in the field they teach). This may be because
institutions that are NCATE-accredited must demonstrate that their students have the
opportunity to acquire a base of content knowledge deemed acceptable by the subject
matter associations that review applications as well as pedagogical knowledge in their
field. Thus, these institutions may, as a group, have less variability than others in
establishing reasonably high standards for disciplinary knowledge as well as knowledge
of how to teach the discipline. It may also be that states in which professional
accreditation is more widespread also happen to have other policies or practices in effect
that support the preparation and hiring of well-qualified teachers.
29 of 44
As shown in Table 5, the extent to which districts maintain rigorous hiring
standards (i.e., the percentage of districts requiring full certification, graduation from an
approved teacher education program, and a college major or minor in the field to be
taught) is a highly significant predictor (p < .001) of the proportions of teachers who are
uncertified. It is also a strong predictor of the proportions of new and veteran teachers
who are fully certified. Since teachers' certification status is also related to state
demographics, these variables were regressed against hiring standards along with student
poverty, percent minority, and percent LEP students. The relationship between hiring
standards and teacher certification status continues to be highly significant after
controlling for student poverty, race, and language status.
Correlations between Teacher Qualifications and
District Hiring Standards (Pearson r)
District Hiring Standards
(Percent of districts requiring full certification, graduation from an approved teacher
education program, and a college major or minor in the field to be taught as a condition
% of new teachers who are fully certified .28**
% of all teachers who are fully certified .33**
% of newly hired teachers who are uncertified -.51***
% of all teachers who are uncertified -.66***
*p<.05 **p<.01 ***p<.001
Relationship between Teacher Qualifications and
District Hiring Standards
(Controlling for Student Poverty, Minority Status, and Language Status)
% all teachers
% students in poverty -.148
% students LEP .226
30 of 44
% students minority .125
*p<.05 **p<.01 ***p<.001
****Percent of districts requiring, as a condition of hiring, full certification, graduation from an
approved teacher education program, and a college major or minor in the field to be taught
This suggests that enforcing standards is both a state and local job. In a
quasi-profession like teaching, there is a complex interplay between the standards
adopted by states and the ways in which local schools and districts manage their hiring
processes, sometimes in accord with and sometimes in violation of state standards. A
minority of states enforce their teacher licensing standards in the inviolable fashion with
which standards for doctors, lawyers, architects, and other professionals are enforced.
These other professions use professional standards boards established by each state as
standard-setting and enforcement bodies. Depending on the degree of authority and
autonomy used as defining characteristics, 12 to 18 states have established such boards
As shown in Table 7, the presence of a professional standards board prior to 1990
proves to be significantly related to district hiring standards, a relationship that holds up
after controlling for student characteristics. In addition, as Table 8 indicates, the presence
of a standards board is significantly associated with the proportions of certified and
uncertified teachers. This relationship may work through the influence such a board
exerts over district decisions about hiring qualified personnel, as suggested above.
Districts often hire unqualified teachers even though fully prepared teachers are available
if state agencies do not prevent them from doing so. This can occur as a function of
cumbersome hiring procedures, patronage, lack of recruitment effort or incentives, or
efforts to reduce salary costs (NCTAF, 1996). Depending upon how they are structured,
some standards boards may have more authority and/or more commitment to prevent the
hiring of unqualified teachers than some state agencies do. In agency interviews, for
example, a staff member of a highly effective state standards board described how the
board examines the candidate qualifications as well as the district's advertising, selection,
and hiring practices and applicant pool in any case where a district requests permission to
hire staff on an emergency or temporary license. Very few requests for hiring of
unqualified personnel are ultimately granted, and district hiring practices are often revised
and improved in the process of the review. In other states, agency officials described
routine, blanket approvals of district requests for emergency hiring even in situations
where districts had just laid off large numbers of qualified teachers or had qualified
applicants in the applicant pool. These officials generally felt they did not have the
resources or the authority to investigate or stem practices they felt were illegal and
Correlations (Pearson r) of Presence of a Professional Standards Board
with District Hiring Standards and Teacher Qualifications
% of districts requiring graduation from an approved teacher
education program .25*
31 of 44
% of districts requiring a college major or minor in the field
to be taught .23*
% of districts requiring full certification, graduation from an
approved program, and a college major or minor .30**
% uncertified teachers -.27**
% fully certified teachers .21*
% fully certified new teachers .21*
# of weeks required for student teaching .25*
Relationship between Professional Standards Board Presence
and District Hiring Standards
District hiring standards
Professional Standards Board .411
% students in poverty .132
% LEP students -.429
% minority students .067
These relationships between the presence of standards boards and teacher
education or hiring practices, although statistically significant, are quite modest
(correlations in the .2 to .3 range), suggesting that many other variables are at play here as
well. It is certainly true that some states enact and enforce high standards for teaching
without the presence of standards boards, while some standards boards do not pursue
their mission with the same vigor as others. Where they exist, however, such bodies often
appear to bring greater consistency of effort and attention to the issues of preparation and
Conclusions and Implications
This analysis triangulates data from surveys of state policies, case study analyses of
state policymaking, and quantitative examination of the distribution of state achievement
scores and resources, taking student characteristics into account. Some findings are
32 of 44
particularly noteworthy. First, while student demographic characteristics are strongly
related to student outcomes at the state level, they are less influential in predicting
achievement levels than variables assessing the quality of the teaching force. Second,
when aggregated at the state level, teacher quality variables appear to be more strongly
related to student achievement than class sizes, overall spending levels, teacher salaries
(at least when unadjusted for cost of living differentials), or such factors as the statewide
proportion of staff who are teachers.
Among variables assessing teacher "quality," the percentage of teachers with full
certification and a major in the field is a more powerful predictor of student achievement
than teachers' education levels (e.g., master's degrees). This finding concurs with those of
other studies cited earlier. It is not surprising that masters degrees would be relatively
weaker measures of teacher knowledge, given the wide range of content they can include,
ranging from specialist degrees in reading or special education that are directly related to
teaching to fields like administration and others that have little to do with teaching. Other
measures of certification status (e.g., the percent of teachers uncertified, the percent with
full certification) are also strong correlates of student achievement. Finally, certain policy
strategies associated with standard-setting at the state and local
level--NCATE-accreditation of teacher education institutions, district hiring standards,
and, to a lesser extent, state professional standards boards--appear to be related to teacher
qualifications in the field.
While the triangulation of data from several sources lends some confidence to these
findings, they should be viewed with caution. Like all studies that draw inferences from
broad state trends and correlational data, there are many variables in play at any given
time and many possible explanations for any phenomenon observed. While this article
presents a range of competing explanations for student achievement trends (student
background, curriculum and testing policies, school funding and equalization, school and
class sizes), it could not fully test all of these explanations. This remains for other
researchers to pursue. In addition, other data and other methodologies could shed further
light on these questions. Adding information about parent education levels might make a
difference in the measurement of student background; adding data about school and
district size (from the Common Core of Data) and curriculum and testing approaches
(from the NAEP background surveys) might shed greater light on school factors that
matter; and adjusting salary and spending data for cost of living differentials might allow
a better evaluation of fiscal influences.
By including estimates of the proportions of staff who are underqualified (and who
tend to cluster in less advantaged schools and districts), this study's estimates tapped
some of the local variability in resources made available to children. However, because
state data on average class sizes and other school resources ignore wide variations in
teaching and learning conditions that may be very important at the district, school, and
classroom levels, these estimates cannot fully capture the effects of such variables.
Average class sizes, for example, vary relatively little across states but vary substantially
within states and districts. Thus, effects of this variable are much more likely to be
perceived with more disaggregated data. By merging district, school, and teacher files,
the SASS data can allow for the use of Hierarchical Linear Modeling techniques, which
would be a useful tool for further exploring relationships between teaching and schooling
variables at the school, district, and state levels.
Nonetheless, the findings of this study, in conjunction with a number of other
studies in recent years, suggest that states interested in improving student achievement
may be well-advised to attend, at least in part, to the preparation and qualifications of the
teachers they hire and retain in the profession. It stands to reason that student learning
33 of 44
should be enhanced by the efforts of teachers who are more knowledgeable in their field
and are skillful at teaching it to others. Substantial evidence from prior reform efforts
indicates that changes in course taking, curriculum content, testing, or textbooks make
little difference if teachers do not know how to use these tools well and how to diagnose
their students' learning needs (for a review, see Darling-Hammond, 1997b).
Like other studies cited earlier, this research indicates that the effects of
well-prepared teachers on student achievement can be stronger than the influences of
student background factors, such as poverty, language background, and minority status.
And while smaller class sizes appear to contribute to student learning, particularly in
fields like elementary reading, the gains occasioned by smaller classes are most likely to
be realized, as they were in the Tennessee experiment, when they are accompanied by the
hiring of well-qualified teachers. The large- scale hiring of unqualified teachers, as was
the case in California's recent class size reduction initiative, would likely offset any
achievement gains that could be realized by smaller class sizes.
Another implication of this study is that states may impact the qualifications of the
teachers through policies that influence the hiring standards of school districts (e.g.,
incentives and sanctions from the state level that encourage the hiring of well-qualified
individuals), the accreditation of teacher education institutions (e.g., encouragement or
requirements for the use of NCATE standards or others of equivalent rigor), and the
bodies that establish and enforce teaching standards (e.g. establishment of professional
standards boards or assurance of adequate capacity and authority for state agencies to
uphold high standards for teaching).
Although this study used fairly crude measures of teacher knowledge and skills
such as certification status, college major, and master's degrees, policymakers should be
aware that there are much more fine-grained distinctions to be made among types of state
certification standards, teacher education programs, professional development offerings,
and education requirements that make a difference to the teachers' abilities and their
students' outcomes. Reforms underway to create more thoughtful licensing systems, more
productive teacher education programs, and more effective professional development
strategies are producing evidence of the stronger effects on teaching and learning of
approaches that strengthen teachers' abilities to teach diverse learners with a keen
diagnostic eye and a wide repertoire of strategies supporting mastery of challenging
content (for a review, see NCTAF, 1996; Darling-Hammond 1997a). Over the next
decade, federal, state, and local policymakers interested in helping students meet higher
learning standards may want to consider how investments in teacher quality, along with
other reforms, can assist them in achieving their goals.
This research was funded in part by the Office of Educational Research and
Improvement (OERI) of the U.S. Department of Education through the Center for
the Study of Teaching and Policy, which is housed at the University of Washington
and includes Stanford University, Teachers College, Columbia University, and the
University of Michigan. The research was initiated while the author was a fellow at
the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences with the support of the
Spencer Foundation. The views represented in this article are those of the author
alone, and do not represent those of any sponsor.
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About the Author
School of Education
Linda Darling-Hammond is Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford
University and executive director of the National Commission on Teaching and
America's Future. Her research, policy, and teaching focus on teacher education and
teaching quality, school restructuring, and educational equity. Among other writings, she
is author of The Right to Learn, which received the Outstanding Book Award from the
American Educational Research Association in 1998.
Copyright 2000 by the Education Policy Analysis Archives
The World Wide Web address for the Education Policy Analysis Archives is epaa.asu.edu
General questions about appropriateness of topics or particular articles may be
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of Education, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-0211.
(602-965-9644). The Commentary Editor is Casey D. Cobb:
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