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Science and Engineering Indicators 2004
  Table of Contents     Figures     Tables     Appendix Tables     Presentation Slides  
Chapter 1:
Student Performance in Mathematics and Science
Mathematics and Science Coursework and Student Achievement
Curriculum Standards and Statewide Assessments
Curriculum and Instruction
Teacher Quality
Teacher Induction, Professional Development, and Working Conditions
Information Technology in Schools
Transition to Higher Education
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Figure 1-15

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Figure 1-16

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Figure 1-17

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Figure 1-18

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Figure 1-19

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Figure 1-20

Elementary and Secondary Education

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Teacher Quality

Academic Abilities of Teachers
Teacher Education and Certification
Match Between Teacher Preparation and Assignment
Teacher Experience

Although defining and measuring teacher quality remains difficult, a growing consensus is developing about some of the characteristics of high-quality teachers. Research studies have found that teachers more effectively teach and improve student achievement if they themselves have strong academic skills (Ehrenberg and Brewer 1994, Ferguson and Ladd 1996, and Hanushek 1996), appropriate formal training in the field in which they teach (Ingersoll 1999), and several years of teaching experience (Murnane and Phillips 1981). The body of expert opinions on teacher effectiveness has been summarized in several studies and commission reports (Darling-Hammond 2000; NCTAF 1996 and 1997; and Wayne and Younger 2003).

Some indicators of quality, such as education, certification, and subject-matter knowledge, are components in the definition of highly qualified teachers in the NCLB Act. For example, starting in fall 2002, the act requires all newly hired elementary and secondary school teachers in Title I schools to hold at least a bachelor's degree and to have full state certification or licensure. In addition, new elementary school teachers must pass tests in subject-matter knowledge and teaching skills in mathematics, reading, writing, and other areas of the basic elementary school curriculum. New middle and high school teachers either must pass a rigorous state test in each academic subject they teach or have the equivalent of an undergraduate major, graduate degree, or advanced certification in their fields (No Child Left Behind Act 2001).

This section discusses these and related indicators of teacher quality, which include the academic abilities of those entering the teaching force, teachers' education and preparation prior to teaching, the match or mismatch between teachers' training and the subject areas they are assigned to teach, and teachers' levels of experience.

Academic Abilities of Teachers top of page

Some evidence suggests that college graduates who enter the teaching profession tend to have lesser academic skills. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of 1972 high school seniors, Vance and Schlechty (1982) found college graduates with low Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores more likely than those with high SAT scores to enter and remain in the teaching force. Ballou (1996), using data from the Surveys of Recent College Graduates, found that the less selective the college, the more likely that its students prepared for and entered the teaching profession.

Data from the 2001 Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study yielded similar findings. Recent college graduates who taught or prepared to teach were underrepresented among graduates with college entrance examination scores in the top quartile (table 1-1 text table). Results for first-time mathematics and science teachers reflected the overall pattern: 18 and 17 percent, respectively, of those who reported teaching science or mathematics in their first job scored in the top quartile on the college entrance examination test compared with 27 percent of those who had neither prepared to teach nor taught. Among those who taught mathematics or science in public schools, an even lower percentage scored in the top quartile: 15 percent for mathematics teachers and 13 percent for science teachers.

However, not all studies have yielded similar results. For example, Latham, Gitomer, and Ziomek (1999) examined the SAT scores of candidates who took and passed the Educational Testing Service (ETS) Praxis II tests between 1994 and 1997 and found that those seeking to teach mathematics and science had higher average mathematics and verbal SAT scores than other college graduates.[12] Using data from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88), Cardina and Roden (1998) found that female high school graduates intending to major in education in college exhibited a range of academic abilities measured by mathematics, science, and reading proficiency levels comparable to that of females intending to major in other fields such as psychology, business, or the health professions.

All of these studies relied heavily on standardized test scores as the sole indicator of the academic competence of teachers or prospective teachers, a major limitation that neglected other traits that may well be associated with teaching effectiveness. For the most part, they also used only a small subsample of teachers (i.e., recent college graduates who entered teaching) or samples of potential teacher candidates (i.e., those seeking to become teachers or intending to major in education), rather than a representative sample of all teachers in the workforce.

Teacher Education and Certification top of page

Although teachers' knowledge of subject matter and pedagogical methods does not guarantee high-quality teaching, this knowledge is a necessary prerequisite. Therefore, teachers' educational attainment and certification status traditionally have been used to gauge teachers' preservice preparation and qualifications (NCES 1999). The conventional route to teaching begins with completion of a bachelor's degree. Although this was once considered adequate preparation for teaching, teachers today often are expected to hold advanced degrees. Indeed, many states and districts, as part of their efforts to raise academic standards, require teachers to attain a master's degree or its equivalent (Hirsch, Koppich, and Knapp 2001).

In academic year 1999, virtually all public school teachers had at least a bachelor's degree and nearly half also had an advanced degree: 42 percent held a master's degree and 5 percent had earned a degree higher than a master's degree, including an educational specialist or professional diploma or a doctoral or first professional degree (table 1-2 text table).[13], [14] The degree attainment of mathematics and science teachers was similar to the pattern for all teachers.[15] In comparison, only 26 percent of the overall population age 25 and over had completed 4 or more years of college in 2000 (NCES 2002b).

As of academic year 1999, 47 percent of public secondary school teachers had majored in an academic subject, 39 percent had majored in subject-area education (such as mathematics education), 7 percent had majored in general education, and 7 percent had majored in another education field for their undergraduate or graduate degree (figure 1-15 figure). Thus, although almost all teachers have at least a bachelor's degree, many have an education degree rather than an academic degree.

Having an education degree does not mean that a teacher lacks subject-matter knowledge. As shown in figure 1-15 figure, most secondary teachers with education degrees had subject-matter education majors such as mathematics education or science education. In recent years, many states have upgraded teacher education by requiring subject-area education majors to complete substantial coursework in an academic discipline. At many teacher-training institutions, a degree in mathematics education currently requires as much coursework in the mathematics department as does a mathematics degree (Ingersoll 2002).

Certification is another important measure of teacher qualifications. Teacher certification, or licensure by the state in which one teaches, includes requirements for formal education (usually a bachelor's degree with requirements for special courses related to teaching), clinical experience (student teaching), and often, some type of formal testing (Mitchell et al. 2001). Types of certification and requirements for each type vary considerably across states. Although most states have increased their standards since the 1980s, more than 30 states still allow hiring of teachers who have not met state licensing standards. This practice actually has increased in some states because the demand for teachers has grown due to increased enrollment and reduced class size (Darling-Hammond 2000 and Jepsen and Rivkin 2002). Some states allow the hiring of teachers who do not have a license, and others fill short-term vacancies by issuing emergency, temporary, or provisional licenses to candidates who may or may not have met various requirements. More than 40 states have developed various alternative certification procedures allowing individuals interested in teaching (i.e., former Peace Corps volunteers, liberal arts college graduates, and military retirees) to become teachers without first completing a formal teacher education program (Feistritzer 1998 and Shen 1997).

In academic year 1999, a vast majority of public school teachers (87 percent overall and 81 percent of mathematics and science teachers) had advanced or regular certification in their main teaching assignment field (appendix table 1-12 Microsoft Excel icon). Some teachers (8 percent overall and 9 percent of mathematics and science teachers) held other types of certification, including probationary, provisional or alternative, temporary, or emergency certifications. About 6 percent of teachers in public schools held no certification in their main assignment field. These teachers might be certified in another field that may or may not be related to their main teaching field. Mathematics and science teachers more often lacked certification in their main assignment field, and this phenomenon occurred more frequently in academic year 1999 than in academic year 1993. In academic year 1993, about 7 percent of mathematics and science teachers in public schools lacked certification (Henke et al. 1997) compared with 10 percent in academic year 1999.

Match Between Teacher Preparation and Assignment top of page

A growing body of research suggests that teachers' subject-matter knowledge is one of the most important elements of teacher quality and that students, particularly in the higher grades, benefit most from teachers with strong subject-matter background (Goldhaber and Brewer 1997 and 2000; Monk and King 1994; and Rowan, Chiang, and Miller 1997). However, studies show that teaching "out of field" (teachers teaching subjects outside their areas of subject-matter training and certification) is not an uncommon phenomenon (Bobbitt and McMillen 1995 and Seastrom et al. 2002). In academic year 1999, 9 percent of public high school students enrolled in mathematics classes, 10 percent of students enrolled in biology/life science classes, and 16 percent of students enrolled in physical science classes received instruction from teachers who had neither certification nor a major or minor in the subject they taught (figure 1-16 figure).

If the definition of a "qualified teacher" is limited to those who hold at least a college minor in the subject taught, the amount of out-of-field teaching substantially increases: 18 percent of public high school students in mathematics classes received instruction from teachers without at least a minor in mathematics, statistics, mathematics education, or a related field, such as engineering and physics. About 31 percent of students in biology/life science classes and 46 percent of students in physical science classes received instruction from teachers who did not have a major or minor in these subjects (figure 1-16 figure). These percentages changed little between academic years 1987 and 1999. (See side-bar, "International Comparisons of Teacher Preparation in Eighth Grade Mathematics and Science," and figure 1-17 figure.)

The amount of out-of-field teaching varies in different types of schools. In general, students in high-poverty schools more often received instruction from out-of-field teachers than students enrolled in more affluent schools (Ingersoll 1999 and 2002). The following discussion examines the mismatch between those teaching mathematics and science and their academic backgrounds in those fields and how this mismatch varies by poverty level and minority concentration.


The amount of out-of-field teaching depends on how strictly one defines a match between teacher preparation and teaching assignment. In academic year 1999, 40 percent of public school students in high grades (hereafter referred to as high school students) studied mathematics with a teacher who majored in mathematics or statistics (figure 1-18 figure). Another 32 percent studied with a teacher who majored in mathematics education. Broadening the definition to include teachers who minored in mathematics or statistics raised the match by 5 percentage points. Adding those who majored or minored in a natural science, computer science, or engineering increased the total by another 5 percentage points, for a total match of approximately 82 percent. In other words, about 18 percent of public high school students studied mathematics with a teacher who did not major or minor in mathematics or a related field. Middle grade students were less likely than their peers in high grades to be taught mathematics by a teacher with a degree in mathematics or statistics and more likely to study mathematics with a teacher without any formal training in mathematics or a related field (figure 1-18 figure).

Biology/Life Sciences

Sixty-three percent of public high school students received instruction in biology or life sciences from a teacher with a major in that subject in academic year 1999. An additional 6 percent studied with a teacher who minored in biology/life sciences, another 6 percent studied with a teacher who majored or minored in another natural science (i.e., chemistry, geology/earth sciences, or physics), and 9 percent studied with a teacher with an undergraduate or graduate degree in science education (figure 1-18 figure). Thus, about 15 percent of public high school students received instruction in biology/life sciences from a teacher without a degree in biology, life sciences, or a related field. Middle grade students studied with a teacher who taught out of field even more often.

Physical Sciences

The match between teaching assignment and teacher preparation in physical sciences follows a similar pattern to that for biological sciences, although, at 41 percent, high school students less often received instruction in physical sciences from a teacher who majored in a physical science (including chemistry, geology/earth sciences, physics, or other natural sciences), or who majored in engineering, and more often received instruction from a teacher who minored in physical sciences or engineering (14 percent). (figure 1-18 figure.) It also was not uncommon for high school physical science students to receive instruction from teachers who majored or minored in biology/life sciences (16 percent) or who majored in science education (13 percent). Sixteen percent of high school students received instruction in physical sciences from an out-of-field teacher (i.e., no major or minor in a physical science, engineering, or a related field). As with mathematics and biology/life sciences, middle grade students more often received instruction in physical sciences from an out-of-field teacher.

Variations Across Schools

Students in high-poverty public high schools were as likely as students in low-poverty schools to receive mathematics instruction from teachers who majored in mathematics or statistics, or to receive instruction in biology/life sciences from teachers with a major in biology/life sciences (appendix table 1-13 Microsoft Excel icon).[16] However, students in high-poverty public high schools received instruction in physical sciences from a teacher who majored in physical sciences less often. About 31 percent of students in high-poverty public high schools studied physical sciences with a teacher who majored in that field compared with approximately 42 percent of students in low-poverty schools. In addition, students in high-poverty and high-minority schools less often received mathematics or science instruction from a teacher who majored in mathematics or science education.

No statistically significant differences existed in the percentage of students who had an out-of-field mathematics, biology/life science, or physical science teacher by either school poverty level or minority concentration (appendix table 1-13 Microsoft Excel icon).

Teacher Experience top of page

Research examining the effects of teacher experience on student learning has found a relationship between teachers' effectiveness and their years of experience (Murnane and Phillips 1981; and Rowan, Correnti, and Miller 2002).

Many studies have established that inexperienced teachers typically are less effective than more senior teachers, but the measurable benefits of experience appear to level off after 5 years (Rosenholtz and Simpson 1990).

In academic year 1999, new teachers (i.e., those with 3 years of experience or fewer) made up 17 and 19 percent, respectively, of mathematics and science teachers in public middle and high schools compared with 16 percent of teachers in all other areas (figure 1-19 figure).

Among public high schools, high-poverty schools and high-minority schools both had a higher proportion of new science teachers than low-poverty schools and low-minority schools[17] (figure 1-20 figure). High-poverty schools had a lower share of the most experienced mathematics and science teachers (those with 20 or more years of experience) compared with low-poverty schools; high-minority schools also had a lower share of the most experienced science teachers compared with low-minority schools.


[12]  Praxis II tests are designed to measure teachers’ content and pedagogical knowledge of the subjects they will teach. States often use them to grant initial teaching licenses.

[13]  The level of teachers' educational attainment remained fairly stable during the past decade. In academic year 1987, 99 percent of public school teachers held at least a bachelor's degree, including 47 percent who had a master’s degree or higher (Choy et al. 1993).

[14]  Data for the analysis on teachers' education, certification, match between preparation and assignment, and experience are based on a nationally representative sample of teachers who participated in the 1999–2000 NCES Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS).

[15]  Mathematics and science teachers are identified by their main assignment field, i.e., the subject area they taught most often.

[16]  High-poverty high schools are those schools in which 50 percent or more of students are approved to receive free or reduced-price lunches. Low-poverty high schools are those with 10 percent or less of students approved to receive free or reduced-price lunches.

[17]  High-minority high schools are those with minority enrollment of 45 percent or more, and low-minority high schools are those with enrollment of 5 percent or less.

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