What Does Research Say on What Counts as a Quality Teacher?

Jennifer King Rice, Ph.D. examined empirical research on U.S. public school teacher qualities and performance found in peer-reviewed journals over the past three decades. She found a variety of outcomes, some conflicting; however, a few stood out. The following is a summary of her findings synthesized from her recent publication, Teacher Quality: Understanding the Effectiveness of Teacher Attributes (pp. v-vi), 2003, Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute.

Teacher experience

  • Experience can make a difference in teacher effectiveness; specifically, the "learning by doing" effect is most obvious in the early years of teaching.

Teacher preparation programs and degrees

  • The selectivity or prestige of the college a teacher attended can impact student achievement, particularly for middle and high school students. (This may partially reflect the teacher's ability to think and acquire knowledge.)
  • Teachers with advanced degrees in math and science are more likely to contribute to increased high school math and science achievement.
  • The effect of advanced degrees at the elementary level is mixed.

Teacher certification

  • Teachers certified in mathematics can enhance high school mathematics achievement.
  • Teachers with emergency or alternative-route certification, as compared to teachers who acquire standard certification, show little difference in their students' math or science performance.

Teacher coursework

  • Teacher coursework in both the subject area taught and pedagogy contributes to positive education outcomes.
  • Pedagogical coursework seems to contribute to teacher effectiveness at all grade levels, particularly when coupled with content knowledge.
  • The importance of content coursework is most pronounced at the high school level.
  • Student-teaching field experience can have a positive effect for new teachers in terms of better understanding the profession and reduced anxiety.

Teachers' own test scores

  • National Teachers Examination and other state-mandated tests of basic skills and/or teaching abilities are not necessarily consistent predictors of teacher performance.
  • Tests that assess teacher literacy or verbal ability are related to higher student achievement.

Next Page: Best-Fit Policy Decision Making

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