The United States has a
long and dishonorable history of dumping the least-qualified teachers into
schools that serve poor and minority students. This shameful practice has
persisted nationally, despite the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which
required the states to place “highly qualified” teachers in every classroom.
The picture has improved
significantly, however, in New York City, where state law has abolished
temporary licenses for uncertified teachers, raised standards in teacher
preparation programs and spawned innovative strategies for recruiting better
A new study by the
nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research shows that the teacher
qualification gap between poor and well-to-do schools in New York City narrowed
considerably between 2000 and 2005. The qualification index took into account
several factors, including certification, experience, the teacher’s SAT scores
and the rank of the undergraduate college the teacher attended.
In the poorest schools, the
better-qualified teachers have driven modest improvements in student
achievement. It may be that right now the city is doing as well as it can with
the current applicant pool. And there is certainly more to teaching than SAT scores
and other credentials. Still, the study shows that the city could substantially
improve performance in fourth and fifth grade math by hiring more people with
Higher salaries have
clearly played a role in strengthening the city’s teacher corps. But the state
kicked off the quality movement when it prohibited the hiring of uncertified
teachers and required lackluster training programs to shape up or shut down.
These programs are indeed
producing stronger teachers. But a large part of the improvement in New York is
owed to two alternative certification routes: the Teaching Fellows program,
which encourages mature professionals to enter teaching, and the national Teach
for America organization, which places high-achieving college graduates in
schools that are difficult to staff.
The New York example shows that the qualification
gap could be closed in a relatively short period of time if the country made it
a priority. By emulating the New York model, America could finally give its
children the highly qualified teachers that they desperately need.