NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Teacher Competency

May 27, 2003

An ongoing debate surrounds the preparation and qualifications that characterize high-quality teachers. Relative to other fields, disputes regarding the knowledge and competency that should be required of teachers are particularly striking. Many agree that teachers should possess a strong basic knowledge of the subjects they teach, but does that knowledge necessarily translate into effective teaching? Over time, teachers' education levels have increased, while student achievement rankings have not.

Although there has been a dramatic increase in the percentage of teachers who hold advanced degrees, many teachers do not hold degrees in the field in which they teach.

  • In 1999, nearly 34 percent of public school teachers in grades 7 through 12 were teaching without a college major or minor in the academic field in which they were teaching.
  • Contrasting the U.S. experience with 38 other countries that participated in the Third International Math and Science Study, on average 71 percent of eighth-grade math teachers majored in mathematics in college, compared with only 41 percent of American eighth-grade math teachers.
  • Moreover, it appears that the more technical the subject, the less likely it is for the teacher to have advanced preparation in the subject.

Teacher education, as we know it, is not the sole solution to an improved education system. Whereas teachers' formal education levels have increased over the past 30 years, student achievement during that period has remained flat on a national level and has fallen in international comparisons. Placing a greater emphasis on having teachers obtain an academic degree rather than an education credential might be a good starting point for increasing student performance in the technical fields.

Source: Hanna Skandera and Richard Sousa, "What Makes a Good Teacher?" Hoover Digest, No. 2, Spring Issue, 2003, Hoover Institution.


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