Mathematics and Science Teacher Quality
- Preparation for Teaching
- Match Between Teacher Preparation and Assignment
- Teaching Experience
Of the many factors affecting student learning, teacher quality is believed to be one of the most important. Research shows that students learn more from teachers who are skilled, experienced, and know what and how to teach (Darling-Hammond 2000; Darling-Hammond and Youngs 2002; Goldhaber 2002; Hanushek et al. 2005; Rice 2003; Wayne and Youngs 2003). The recent federal NCLB Act has focused a great deal of attention on improving teacher quality in the nation's public schools. It legislates the goal of having a highly qualified teacher in every classroom, and provides a definition of a "highly qualified teacher" (No Child Left Behind Act of 2001).
This section uses data from SASS to examine indicators of teacher quality, focusing on preservice preparation, degree of congruity between teachers' field of preparation and teaching assignment, and years of teaching experience. The main focus is on mathematics and science teachers in public middle and high schools (see sidebar "Demographic Characteristics of Mathematics and Science Teachers in U.S. Public Schools"). Although this section draws heavily on data from the 2003–04 SASS, comparable data from the 1999–2000 SASS are also used to examine changes occurring over time. When possible, measures are analyzed separately for schools with differing concentrations of minority and low-income students.
Preparation for Teaching
Formal preparation for teaching is typically indicated by highest degree and types of certification. Although having a college degree and certification do not guarantee that a teacher has the deep grasp of subject matter and the repertoire of instructional skills necessary for effective teaching (Public Agenda 2006), they represent two indicators of teacher qualification and are the two basic elements in the NCLB definition of highly qualified teachers. Experts recommend that teachers not only study varied aspects of the profession during preservice education, but also engage in extensive practical training through practice teaching, which is often a requirement for completing an educational degree or state certification, or both (NCTAF 1996; Rice 2003). The following section examines these aspects of preparation that teachers engaged in before starting work in the profession.
Highest Degree Attainment
In both 1999 and 2003, virtually all public school teachers, including those who taught mathematics and science, had attained at least a bachelor's degree and nearly half had also earned an advanced degree such as a master's or doctorate
In addition to teachers' formal education, certification is an important component of their qualifications. Certification is generally awarded by state education agencies to teachers who have completed specific requirements. These requirements vary across states but typically include completing a bachelor's degree, completing a period of practice teaching, and passing some type of formal test(s) (Kaye 2002). Most teachers complete regular certification programs before beginning to teach. In 2003, 88% of all public school teachers and 84% of mathematics and science teachers held regular or advanced certification (hereinafter called full certification) issued by their state
In response to a growing demand for teachers because of increased enrollment and reduced class size, many states have also developed various alternative certification programs allowing individuals to become teachers without first completing a regular certification program (Shen 1997). Depending on the particular requirements completed, these individuals are typically awarded probationary, provisional/temporary, or emergency licenses. In 2003, 11% of all public school teachers and 15% of mathematics and science teachers held one of these kinds of certification
Some states still allow public schools to hire teacher candidates who do not have a license. However, this practice has significantly decreased during recent years; between 1999 and 2003, the percentage of public school mathematics and science teachers who did not have a teaching certificate declined from 10% to 1%.
The majority of public middle and high school mathematics and science teachers with less than 5 years of teaching experience (hereinafter called beginning teachers) had participated in practice teaching before starting the job; many had practiced for at least 5 weeks
Self-Assessment of Preparedness
Public middle and high school teachers generally felt well prepared to perform various tasks during their first year of teaching
Teacher confidence about preparation for their first teaching job was related to practice teaching. Beginning mathematics and science teachers who participated in practice teaching were more likely than their counterparts without any practice teaching to report feeling well prepared to perform various teaching tasks
Match Between Teacher Preparation and Assignment
Over the past decade, no issue related to teacher quality has received more attention than out-of-field teaching in the nation's middle and high schools (Ingersoll 2003; Jerald 2002; Peske and Haycock 2006). This issue is crucial because even well-educated and fully certified teachers may be unqualified, in practical terms, if they are assigned to teach subjects for which they have little formal preparation. To determine how many teachers are teaching their subjects without specific kinds of formal training in those subjects, efforts have focused on the nature of teacher qualifications (postsecondary coursework or state certification in their teaching assignment field) (Ingersoll 1999, 2003; NCTAF 1996). Teachers without qualifications in their teaching assignment fields are described as teaching out of field.
The following indicators use SASS data to examine the scope of out-of-field teaching among public middle and high school mathematics and science teachers in academic year 2003. The sidebar "In-Field and Out-of-Field Teaching" provides the detailed definitions used in this section.
In 2003, over half (54%) of mathematics teachers in public middle schools were teaching in field
More than half (55%) of biology/life science teachers (hereinafter called biology teachers) at the middle school level were teaching in field. About 10% of middle school biology teachers were teaching out of field, about twice the proportion of middle school mathematics teachers. The vast majority of high school biology teachers (92%) were teaching in field, and 3% were teaching out of field.
Overall, physical science teachers were less qualified on this indicator than mathematics and biology teachers. At the middle school level, 33% of physical science teachers were teaching in field and 3% were teaching out of field. At the high school level, 78% of physical science teachers were teaching in field and 2%, out of field.
Variation Across Schools
In-field and out-of-field teachers were not distributed evenly across schools
Although experience does not guarantee quality teaching, empirical evidence indicates that teachers who have at least several years of teaching experience are generally more effective than new teachers in helping students learn (Fetler 1999; Hanushek et al. 2005; Murnane and Phillips 1981; Rivkin, Hanushek, and Kain 2000; Rowan, Correnti, and Miller 2002). The following discussion focuses on new mathematics and science teachers (those with 3 or fewer years of teaching experience) and how they are distributed across schools.
In 2003, new teachers made up 17%–22% of mathematics teachers and 15%–19% of science teachers in public middle and high schools
Virtually all public school mathematics and science teachers had a bachelor's degree and nearly 9 in 10 held full state certification. The majority of beginning mathematics and science teachers in public middle and high schools had also participated in practice teaching before starting their first teaching job, although the percentage of teachers with practice teaching experience declined from 1999 to 2003. Teachers with preservice practice teaching had greater confidence about their ability to handle their first teaching assignment.
More than three-fourths of mathematics and science teachers in public high schools were teaching in field. However, in-field teaching was less common at the middle school level. Overall, out-of-field teaching ranged from 3% of physical science teachers to 10% of biology teachers in middle schools and from 2% of physical science teachers to 8% of mathematics teachers in high schools. All indicators examined in this section showed a general pattern of unequal access to the most qualified teachers: low-minority and low-poverty schools were more likely than high-minority and high-poverty schools to have teachers with more education, better preparation and qualifications in their field, and more experience.
 NCLB defines a highly qualified elementary or secondary school teacher as someone who holds a bachelor's degree and full state-approved teaching certificate or license (excluding emergency, temporary, and provisional certificates) and who demonstrates subject-matter competency in each academic subject taught by having an undergraduate or graduate major or its equivalent in the subject; passing a test on the subject; holding an advanced teaching certificate in the subject; or meeting some other state-approved criteria. NCLB requires that 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 or graduate major or advanced certification in their fields.
 Teacher quality can include many characteristics that are not discussed here, such as teachers' commitment to the profession; sense of responsibility for student learning; and ability to motivate students, manage classroom behavior, maximize instructional time, and diagnose and remedy students' learning difficulties (Goldhaber and Anthony 2004; McCaffrey et al. 2003; Rice 2003). These characteristics are rarely examined in nationally representative surveys because they are difficult and costly to measure.
 Research on how elementary school teachers are prepared to teach mathematics and science is emerging but limited (National Research Council 2007). Based on an extensive literature review on science education, the National Research Council (2007) concludes that K–8 teachers had limited training in science education and insufficient knowledge of science. However, some evidence suggests that K–5 teachers are confident about their ability to teach their subjects including mathematics and science (Weiss et al. 2003). Much more research is needed to increase understanding about elementary teacher preparation for teaching mathematics and science.
 To simplify the discussion, schools in which 10% or fewer of the students were eligible for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program are called low-poverty schools; and schools in which more than 50% of the students were eligible are called high-poverty schools. Similarly, low-minority schools are those in which 5% or fewer of the students were members of a minority, and high-minority schools are those in which more than 45% of the students were members of a minority.
 In general, probationary certification is awarded to those who have completed all the requirements except for a probationary teaching period. Provisional or temporary certification is awarded to those who still have requirements to meet. Emergency certification is issued to those with insufficient teacher preparation who must complete a regular certification program in order to continue teaching (Henke et al. 1997).
 Practice teaching (also called student teaching) offers prospective teachers hands-on classroom experience that allows them to transform the knowledge learned from coursework into teaching exercises in the classroom. Currently, 39 states require public school teachers to complete a minimum of 5 weeks of practice teaching, through either traditional teacher education programs or licensure requirements (Editorial Projects in Education 2006).