NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Teachers Who Don't Know Their Subjects

May 3, 1999

Small wonder American students evidence such a mediocre showing when compared to the achievements of their peers in other countries: many of their teachers have no particular expertise in the subjects they teach.

Data developed by University of Georgia sociology professor Richard Ingersoll show that:

  • Some 31.4 percent of public secondary school math instructors lack a major or minor in that subject -- with the figure for high-poverty schools standing at 42.8 percent.
  • Among life science teachers, the national average is 32.9 percent lacking a major or minor in that field -- 40.1 percent in high-poverty schools.
  • Fully 56.9 percent of those who teach physical science courses nationwide are academically unprepared -- with an astonishing 65.1 percent unprepared in schools with high poverty rates.
  • Some 24.1 percent of English teachers never specialized in that subject -- while the figure is 25.1 percent for those in high-poverty public schools.

"You can't teach what you don't know," says Ingersoll, a former high school teacher. "This is a big problem, far bigger than anyone has been willing to admit," he adds.

Source: Anna Bray Duff, "Who's Teaching Johnny Math," Investor's Business Daily, April 30, 1999.


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