Teacher Qualifications

The New York City progress report provides a number of measures of teacher quality, including the percent of teachers with a doctorate, the percent of teachers teaching in their area of certification and the number of teachers with more than three years of teaching experience. In fact, we have included these measures on our school profiles and comparison charts to allow parents to compare various measures of teacher quality. Unfortunately, these data are not always good measures of teacher quality.

The evidence is mixed in regard to the extent to which teacher experience and certification influence student achievement. Some studies have shown that teachers with one or two years of experience, all other factors being equal, have lower performance than their peers with more experience; however, Mathematica, a well-respected research firm, conducted a study showing that Teach For America teachers with one or two years of experience had similar results to traditional teachers in English and slightly better test scores in math.  This finding is not particularly surprising in that the evidence is fairly clear that a teacher’s subject matter expertise does influence student achievement, particularly in math and science. While Teach For America recruits math and science majors to teach for two years, the supply of math and science teachers is much lower than the demand from school districts across the nation.

Perhaps the best measure of teacher quality is that of teacher retention rates. Teachers who are supported by their principals and enjoy teaching at a school tend to stay at that school. In contrast, teachers leave schools in which they are not supported or are struggling.

Unfortunately, statistics alone cannot help you learn whether a school has good teachers or not. You will have to visit the schools to see if the teachers are using progressive teaching techniques, seem to be enjoying spending time with the children, the students are responding well to the teacher and the teacher is able to manage the students’ behavior.