What Does Research Tell Us?

More often than not, teacher quality is defined as the credentials a teacher brings to the classroom. In teacher hiring and compensation policies, a number of teacher characteristics (e.g., experience and degree) are routinely assumed to be indicative of teacher quality. In a recent analysis of national data, Croninger and his colleagues (2003) found that teacher certification status, degree type, and years of experience do relate to student learning in early elementary grades, and that teacher qualifications matter in reading and general knowledge acquisition, especially for low income children. Other research provides further evidence that certain attributes are linked to teacher effectiveness. In her new book, Teacher Quality: Understanding the Effectiveness of Teacher Attributes, Rice examines the research evidence on what makes a quality teacher. She focuses on five broad characteristics that are typically thought to reflect teacher quality: teacher experience, preparation programs and degrees, certification, coursework, and test scores (see “What Does Research Say on What Counts as a Quality Teacher?”).

Having a highly qualified teacher has been shown in the research to matter most for minority and disadvantaged students. For these students it seems to make a difference where the teacher got his/her degree, what the degree is, and how well he/she scored on teacher skills and abilities tests. Schools with high student poverty or in urban locations often have teacher resource deficits, such as fewer teachers with subject-specific certification, more inexperienced teachers, and less money allocated for these teachers' salaries, which have been linked to lower student performance (Goldhaber & Brewer, 2000; Roza, Miles, & Foley, 2003). As Rice and other researchers clearly tell us, certain teacher characteristics are important in particular settings, for specific grade levels, and with select subgroups of students, making teacher quality far more complex and difficult to assess than just having a checklist of credentials to use in making decisions.

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Published in Insights on Educational Policy, Practice, and Research Number 17, September 2004, A Best-Fit Approach to Effective Teacher Policy