NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 27, 2006

Public school teachers in the nation's wealthiest communities continue to be more qualified than those in the poorest areas despite a federal law designed to provide all children equal educational opportunity.

Preliminary data released by the Department of Education show that in 39 states, the chance of finding teachers who know their subjects are better in elementary schools where parents' incomes are highest. The data show that's also the case among middle and high schools in 43 states.

  • As of the 2004-05 school year, nearly 91 percent of schools nationwide reported having highly qualified teachers for those courses, up from 86 percent the year before.
  • Wisconsin reported the highest compliance rate at 99.5 percent.
  • Several, including Hawaii, California and South Carolina, were below 80 percent.
  • The numbers are improving at a slightly faster rate for schools in the poorest neighborhoods, where nearly 87 percent of classes had a qualified teacher last year, compared with 93 percent in the most affluent areas.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has told state officials she is willing to extend the deadline as long as they make a "good-faith effort" to meet the goal. The law gives states latitude to define what a highly qualified teacher is, but federal officials have said that at a minimum, instructors must hold a bachelor's degree, have state certification and show mastery of their subject.

Skeptics such as Nevada Schools Superintendent Keith Rheault call the 100 percent target unattainable and say the process for training teachers can't meet the demand.

Nevada tries a different tack, giving principals at high-poverty schools first crack at new teachers. Instructors who refuse an assignment can be removed from the hiring list for a year.

Source: Ledyard King, "Gap in teacher quality falls on income lines." Gannett News Service/USA Today, April 27, 2006.

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