Teachers Should Competently Teach the Prescribed Curricula

Another definition of teacher quality focuses on teachers’ skills rather than their morality or personality traits. This approach to teacher quality was especially widespread in the post-Sputnik era when American policy makers sponsored numerous curriculum design efforts and wanted teachers to implement the programs exactly as specified.

Pursuing the idea of the teacher with technical skills, researchers in the next decades focused on observing teachers in their classrooms, at first to see how well they were implementing specific curricula and later to document specific teaching practices that seemed to be associated with gains in students’ test scores (Brophy and Good, 1986). This latter body of work focused on discrete practices such as questioning and lesson pacing. This research came to be known as “process-product” research, since it sought relationships between classroom processes and the product of gains in student achievement. This movement marked the first time that student achievement became a widely accepted criterion for teacher quality. The goal of this research was to identify specific behaviors that other teachers could emulate. Researchers focused on such skills as question asking, lesson pacing, and clarity in explanations.

It is important to recall, too, that early in this country’s educational history, Americans were operating separate school systems for black students and white students and did not pay much attention to the needs of other nonwhite groups in education policies and practices. Most discussions about teacher quality, at least until the 1960s, referred mainly to white teachers teaching white students. The situation changed somewhat in the 1950s and 1960s, after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision. Even then, though, discussions among mostly white scholars and politicians tended to focus more on the distribution of education resources than on questions of teacher quality.


These examples demonstrate how definitions of teacher quality have varied across time. In the 1980s and 1990s, Americans—particularly American policy makers—developed yet another definition of teacher quality. Today’s definition of teacher quality differs from its predecessors in several ways. First, it acknowledges the diversity of the student population in a way not previously done. Second, it asks for a level of instruction that is more intellectually rigorous and meaningful than has traditionally been the case. These definitions of teacher quality are less concerned with teachers’ character traits or technical proficiency and more concerned with teachers’ ability to engage students in rigorous, meaningful activities that foster academic learning for all students. Finally, current statements on teacher quality are standards based and define the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that teachers should demonstrate.

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