Future of Children Policy Brief

A Plan to Improve the Quality of Teaching in American Schools


Policy Brief

Research on teacher quality shows not only that students who have good teachers learn more but that their learning is cumulative if they have good teachers for several consecutive years. The major goal of educational reformers today should be to boost teacher quality. We outline a five-part plan by which school systems could achieve this goal. The plan includes rethinking entry requirements for teaching, implementing a strategy to identify effective teachers, promoting only effective teachers, giving bonuses to teachers who teach disadvantaged students or in fields that are difficult to staff, and promoting professional development linked directly to teachers' work. As part of its reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act this year, Congress could consider funding large-scale demonstration and research programs by school systems to test plans for improving teacher quality.

The rousing national discussion of teacher quality is the most important debate on education in a generation. A compelling body of research now shows that good teachers can boost student achievement. Even more exciting, students who have good teachers for several consecutive years show cumulative gains in achievement. For educators, researchers, and policymakers of a certain age who have suffered through wave after wave of ineffectual educational reform, the new research on teacher quality has finally created optimism that something can be done to boost student achievement. A second reason the debate on teacher quality is so important is that a key provision of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, which is being reviewed by Congress this year, is that states must provide every student with a highly qualified teacher in all core courses. Proposals on improving teacher quality could thus not be more timely. The purpose of this policy brief is to review the evidence showing the importance of teacher quality and then, drawing on articles published in the latest volume of The Future of Children and other recent proposals, to outline a plan that Congress could adopt to substantially improve teacher quality over the next decade and beyond. Our plan also emphasizes closing the gap in achievement between middle-class students and their poor and minority peers.