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EdTrust: Too few expert teachers, especially in poor schools


About one in six secondary school classes in the United States is taught by a teacher who didn’t major in the subject and isn’t certified to teach it, a new report by the Education Trust concludes.

The problem is even worse in schools with a high percentage of poor students, where more than a quarter of classes may be taught by an “out-of-field” teacher. Middle school classes and math classes are also more likely to be taught by less-expert teachers, the report says.

This is worrisome because previous studies have found that secondary school teachers with more expertise in their content area get better results from students — especially in math.

Bringing it closer to home, New York State does better than the national average in making sure that classes are taught by teachers who know their subjects well, according to the Education Trust report.

Still, a look at more recent data shows that although it has narrowed somewhat, a teacher-qualifications gap persists in New York State. About 97% of teachers in low-poverty secondary schools here were highly qualified, compared to only 84% of teachers in high-poverty schools.

New York City has been lauded for dramatically increasing the number of qualified teachers, though highly-qualified teachers were still scarce in physics, earth science, foreign languages, and art.

The Education Trust advises states and districts to offer financial incentives and to start or expand programs like the Teaching Fellows and urban teacher residencies to bring qualified teachers into high-poverty schools. Universities can also do their part by setting aggressive goals for recruiting students to math and science teacher education programs, the report says.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.