CPRE : Consortium for Policy Research in Education

Teacher Quality

Sponsoring Agency: National Institute on Educational Governance, Finance, Policymaking and Management, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education

Research Team: Richard Ingersoll (University of Pennsylvania)

This research project (2001-2003) examines the phenomenon of out-of-field teaching in secondary schools -- the widespread practice of assigning teachers to teach subjects for which they have little education or training. Over the past several years, the problem of out-of-field teaching has received much attention in the national media and become a prominent topic in the realm of educational policy and reform. But, unfortunately, it is also a topic that has been widely misunderstood. At the heart of this misunderstanding are two crucial questions, both of which remain unanswered:

  • What are the reasons for the prevalence of out-of-field teaching in American schools?
  • What are its consequences for teachers and schools?

This project builds on earlier work on this issue by undertaking a detailed statistical examination of the sources and consequences of this problem. The data are from the nationally representative Schools and Staffing Survey -- covering the 13-year period from 1987 to 2000. This study will also examine trends in out-of-field teaching over this period and will look at the effects of the past few years' teacher quality initiatives and reform efforts on the degree of out-of-field teaching in schools.

Related Publications and Presentations:

Congressional Expert Testimony
Published in Teacher Preparation Initiatives: Hearing Before the Committee on Education and the Workforce, House of Representatives, One Hundred Fifth Congress. This is a brief summary of the problem of out-of-field teaching with federal policy recommendations presented by Dr. Ingersoll at the Congressional Hearings on Teacher Policy held in February 1998.

Is There Really a Teacher Shortage?
In this research report co-published in September 2003 by CPRE and the Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy, Richard Ingersoll examines the factors that may affect the teacher shortage.

Measuring Out-of-Field Teaching
This paper describes, compares, and evaluates over a dozen different measures of out-of-field teaching that have been used over the past decade. The objective is to clarify the strengths and weaknesses of each in order to aid researchers in their decisions as to which is best to use in their analyses and to help users interpret what any given measure actually indicates about the extent of underqualified teaching in schools. Copies are available by request from Dr. Ingersoll.

Misunderstanding the Problem of Out-of-Field Teaching
Published in the January/February 2001 issue of Educational Researcher, this essay addresses two key misunderstandings surrounding the problem of out-of-field teaching: Do teachers' qualifications really matter? And what do measures of out-of-field teaching really measure?

The Organization of Schools as an Overlooked Source of Underqualified Teaching
(Richard Ingersoll, December 2002, published by the Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy)

Out-of-Field Teaching and the Limits of Teacher Policy
Co-published by CPRE and the Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy in September 2003, this research report addresses one of the most important problems in contemporary American education: the failure to ensure that the nation's classrooms are all staffed with qualified teachers.

Out-of-Field Teaching, Educational Inequality, and the Organization of Schools: An Exploratory Analysis
Published in January 2002 by the Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy, this research report focuses on the question, why are particular schools, especially those serving disadvantaged students, more likely to have out-of-field teaching?

The Problem of Underqualified Teachers in American Secondary Schools
Published in the March 1999 issue of Educational Researcher, this article summarizes Dr. Ingersoll's research on the how much, what, who, where, and why of out-of-field teaching.

Researcher Skewers Explanations Behind Teacher Shortage (by Debra Viadero)
This is a news story on a presentation given at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. It was published in the April 10, 2002 issue of Education Week.

Teacher Turnover and Teacher Shortages: An Organizational Analysis
Published in the Fall 2001 issue of the American Educational Research
, this is a research report on the roots of teacher shortages and teacher turnover, with a statistical analysis of how much teacher turnover exists, which kinds of schools have more of it, and why they do.
To obtain a copy of the article, e-mail AERA Communications and Outreach. An earlier version was published in January 2001 by the Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy. Click here to download a copy.

Turnover Among Mathematics and Science Teachers in the U.S.
This is a brief summary of national data on the rates of and reasons
for teacher turnover, especially among math/science teachers. Prepared
in 1999 for the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, chaired by former Senator John Glenn.

Start date: 
January 2001
End date: 
January 2003