Improving Teacher Quality

By Christopher T. Cross and Diana Wyllie Rigden

For a dozen years, educators and policy makers have advocated standards-based reform, convinced that every child needs to reach high academic standards in core subject areas and is capable of doing so. The theory is that student learning will improve when states set ambitious academic standards, align assessments to the standards, and hold schools and teachers accountable for how well students meet the expectations of the standards.

It has become increasingly clear to researchers, however, that putting these pieces in place does not, by itself, ensure that students learn. States, districts, and schools must also dedicate resources to building teachers' content knowledge and instructional skills and providing additional instructional time for low-performing students if standards-based reform is to result in increased student achievement.

From studies conducted in Alabama, California, New York, Tennessee, and Texas, we know that a teacher's knowledge and classroom expertise are the most important influences on how well students learn. Research conducted by SRI International, the Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy, and others confirms that for children to succeed academically, they must have teachers who not only know their subjects well but also know how to adapt lessons so that students with different skills and abilities master the coursework and meet high expectations.

If we know that the classroom teacher's knowledge and skills are the most important influences on how well students learn, why isn't every child in the United States taught by a qualified teacher?

Data reported by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future and others reveal that many practicing teachers have neither the subject-area knowledge nor the instructional skills to teach students from a variety of diverse backgrounds and with a wide range of skills so that they will achieve the academic standards adopted by local districts and states. In many states, such knowledge and skills are not required for a teaching license. The 2001 manual from the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification reports the following requirements for initial licensure in the 50 states and the District of Columbia:

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