Publication Date



[Excerpt] One of the major goals of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB, P.L. 107-110), is to raise the achievement of students who currently fail to meet grade-level proficiency standards. Because student achievement is widely believed to depend largely on the quality of instruction, the law also contains provisions designed to improve teacher quality. These provisions establish professional credentials for teachers and charge states and school districts with developing plans to improve teacher quality. According to the law, these plans must ensure that all core subject-matter courses are taught by a highly qualified teacher and that poor and minority students have equal access to quality instruction.

To be deemed highly qualified, NCLB requires that teachers possess a baccalaureate degree and a state teaching certificate, and that teachers also demonstrate subject-matter knowledge for their teaching level. Elementary school teachers must show knowledge of basic elementary school curricular areas. Middle and secondary school teachers must demonstrate a high level of competency in all subject areas taught. Demonstration of subject-matter knowledge and competency may be shown by passing a state certification exam or licensing test in the relevant subject(s).

This report examines implementation of the NCLB requirement and examines the extent to which schools achieved the law’s goal of placing a highly qualified teacher in every classroom. After describing the highly qualified teacher requirement in detail, the report analyzes data from a national survey of schools conducted a year before NCLB became law. These data suggest that as many as four out of five teachers met the NCLB requirement prior to its enactment. Data reported throughout implementation of the law indicate that the proportion of highly qualified teachers increased each year, but that no state has reached 100%. In addition, analysis of these data also support concerns about the equitable distribution of teaching quality between poor and nonpoor schools.

This report concludes with a discussion of teacher quality issues that may be considered as the ESEA reauthorization process unfolds. Several of these issues have been the subject of waiver authority exercised by the Secretary of Education under both the current and previous administrations. Congress has also taken up these issues along with reauthorization of the rest of the ESEA. This report will be updated as significant legislative developments occur.


Suggested Citation
Kuenzi, J. J. (2012). Teacher quality issues in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.