National report says one in four teachers not trained in class subject
By Greg Toppo
WASHINGTON An estimated one in four public middle- and high-school classes is taught by a teacher not trained in the subject and the problem is worse in schools that serve poor and minority students.
"It's clear that administrators have yet to get the message that they have to stop assigning teachers out of field," said Craig Jerald of the Education Trust, the Washington group that released the report yesterday. "Sure, shortages make it more difficult to tackle this problem, but there's good evidence that a lot of this is under our control."
The Education Trust, a nonprofit organization that advocates for urban and minority students, said statistics on teacher qualifications had not changed since 1993.
Part of an education plan signed in January by President Bush requires that if an instructor is assigned to a subject he or she is not qualified to teach, the principal must send home a note letting parents know within a month.
Jerald said the requirement "will create a hunger for the data reports that come out, and the data reports will embarrass state and local officials to do something on a systemwide basis."
Paul Houston, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said the issue is not that simple.
"It's not like people are sitting around saying, 'Let's fill these classrooms with people who are not qualified,' " he said. "If the people aren't there and aren't willing to work for these (school) systems, you're going to have a problem."
The report was based on a random survey by the Education Department completed periodically by about 55,000 teachers. The Education Trust examined responses from 16,000 secondary school teachers in the most recent survey, from the 1999-2000 school year.
The group looked at whether classes in four core subjects English, math, science and social studies were assigned to a teacher who lacked a college major or minor in that field or a related field.
Nationally, 24.2 percent of classes were taught by such teachers, but 12 states including Hawai'i had more than 30 percent of classes fitting that category. Five states Arizona, Delaware, Louisiana, New Mexico and Tennessee averaged more than one-third.
In schools that serve mostly poor students, nearly twice as many courses are taught by out-of-field teachers as in schools with few poor students, the analysis found. The problem also is worse in schools that mostly serve minority students: 29 percent compared with 21 percent for schools that have low minority enrollments.
Houston said school districts should consider offering incentives such as tax credits to qualified teachers who are willing to work in such areas.
"It's going to take more than simply telling people to do better," he said.
Richard Ingersoll, the University of Pennsylvania researcher who analyzed the data, said the problem is more serious in middle schools, which have "astronomical levels" of classes taught by out-of-field teachers 44 percent, on average. That rises to 53 percent in high-poverty schools.
In many cases, the problem arises when a full-time teacher does not have the full five-course load in his or her field. Rather than hiring another part-time teacher, a principal might ask this teacher to take additional classes in a different subject.