The classroom teacher remains at the heart of American public schools and the success of schools hinges on the effectiveness of teachers in the classroom. Teaching involves connecting new learning experiences to the previous knowledge and experiences of the learner. Teachers need to understand who their students are, where they come from, and what previous ideas they are bringing into the classroom. Research over the past two decades confirms the critical role that teachers play in the success of their students both academically and with respect to longer term outcomes such as college attendance and lifetime income. Therefore, all teachers need to be prepared to recognize and leverage the various assets students bring into the classroom so that they can ensure the success of all students.
A number of shifts over the past two decades have impacted expectations for K–12 teachers. This report looks at three specific (although interrelated) aspects of K–12 that contribute to the demands on teachers: the policy context, an increasingly diverse student body, and the composition of the teacher workforce itself. First, the policy context has shifted such that teachers are increasingly required to attend to new curricular standards, participate in the selection and adaption of instructional materials while also being held accountable for student performance. Second, the diversity of the student population has rapidly changed such that a majority of students in U.S. K–12 schools identify as members of minoritized communities. As a result, teachers need to evaluate their teaching practices to ensure that they are creating classroom environments that are supportive for all learners. Finally, this report also examines the makeup of the
teacher workforce itself. Together, these factors—to context and expectation alike—raise important questions about how teacher education—both preservice and inservice—may need to change to ensure teachers are able to meet new expectations and provide students with the kinds of classroom experiences that will put them on the path to future success.
At the request of the Hewlett Foundation, the Board on Higher Education and Workforce in collaboration with the Board on Science Education of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened an expert committee to address these issues. The committee represented a diverse range of expertise and practice including a principal, state policy leaders, and researchers across academic disciplines (science, mathematics, and history) that explore issues related to preservice teacher preparation, inservice professional development, workforce conditions, and the analysis of teacher labor markets. The committee responded to questions grouped in three broad topics:
- Impact of the changing landscape of K–12 education: How has the teacher workforce changed over the past 10–20 years? How have expectations of teachers changed over this same period? How might the teacher workforce change in the future?
- Implications for preservice and inservice: What does the changing nature of the teacher workforce mean for the way higher education and other providers address K–12 teacher preservice and inservice education?
- Taking preservice and inservice programs to scale: In light of the current and anticipated structural changes in the teacher workforce, how can effective models, programs, and practices for teacher education (including principles of deeper learning) be sustained and expanded?
In response to the charge, the committee explored the nature of the current teacher workforce and key changes in the landscape of K–12 education, examined models of preservice and inservice education, and identified factors involved in helping teachers become more effective.
TODAY’S CLASSROOMS AND EXPECTATIONS FOR TEACHERS
Overall, when examining the current composition of the national teacher workforce over the past 20 years, the committee did not find strong evidence of large changes despite national conversations that suggest a changing workforce. This difference in observed trends may be due in part to the shorter timeframe that the committee was charged to examine and the broader timeframes examined in the existing literature.
CONCLUSION 1: At the national level, the composition of the teacher workforce (e.g., distribution in gender, age, race and ethnicity, years of experience) has been relatively stable over the past 20 years.
Over the course of this study, the committee found, however, that what it means to be a teacher today—the expectations and demands placed upon teachers—has changed. This means that teachers must be adequately prepared to respond to these new demands and must experience workplace conditions and opportunities for professional development that are responsive to these changed expectations. The new demands include standards, learning approaches, student variability (including disability status), and equity.
The student population of America’s public schools has grown substantially more diverse over the past two decades. This demographic change increases the demands on teachers as they strive to create supportive learning environments for children and youth from a broad range of backgrounds. Teachers are increasingly charged with ensuring that classrooms serve as equitable learning communities, fostering trusting and caring relationships among students and with teachers. They are also often called on to serve as a bridge between the school and families and communities.
In addition, the recent adoption of rigorous national content standards by many states raises the expectations for students’ learning, which in turn raises expectations for instruction. These standards move from a focus on demonstrating understanding of concepts to asking students to demonstrate proficiency in disciplinary practices that require them to apply their knowledge to solve authentic problems. These increased expectations for learning, combined with the demand to create a responsive learning environment that supports the needs of diverse students, call for innovative approaches to instruction that may differ substantially from teachers’ own experiences as students or their preservice education. The dual pressures of responding to new and more rigorous standards while working with a diverse student population are heightened by the accountability systems in place in many states. The committee concludes that:
CONCLUSION 2: There are more explicit demands placed upon K–12 teachers today. There continues to be an increase in the level of content and pedagogical knowledge expected of teachers to implement curriculum and instruction aligned to newer content standards and deeper learning goals. Teachers are called on to educate an increasingly diverse student body, to enact culturally responsive pedagogies, and to have a deeper understanding of their students’ socioemotional growth. Integrating these various, layered expectations places substantially new demands on teachers.
CONCLUSION 3: The adoption of state standards and accountability systems has contributed to increased expectations for what teachers need to accomplish for all students in terms of achievement and content mastery.
THE TEACHER WORKFORCE
Teacher shortages, also described as staffing challenges, have been widely reported over the past few years. However, recent national-level data suggest declines in the number of individuals pursuing teaching degrees have slowed and, at least in some states, enrollment has begun to increase. More importantly, the long-term national trend (over the course of 30 years) is one of increased supply of potential teachers. In addition, although the overall national demographics of the teachers themselves has not changed substantially during this time, there have been some modest increases in the numbers of teachers of color entering the workforce.
However, the positive outlook conveyed in the national data may mask the dynamics of the labor markets at the state and local level. State policies determine teacher licensure, seniority, tenure, and pension rules, and these policies differ from one another in ways that can create barriers for cross-state teacher mobility. The strong state role in influencing teacher labor markets results in labor market conditions that vary from state to state and sometimes even from city to city. That said, a common finding across states is that staffing challenges are generally far greater for schools serving low-income students, low-achieving students, students of color, those geographically far from teacher education programs, and in high-needs areas, like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics subjects and special education. These are long-standing issues with the way the teacher labor market functions (or fails to function well) and merit greater attention.
The finding that labor market trends vary from state to state and even locally is also mirrored in teacher turnover. Turnover is substantially higher in the south than elsewhere, and turnover tends to be higher in cities than in suburbs or more rural areas. Moreover, teacher turnover is somewhat higher in schools where state tests scores are low and in schools that serve poverty-impacted communities and/or communities of color. These higher turnover rates have been attributed to lower-quality working conditions—such schools typically have less effective leaders, greater leadership churn, fewer resources, and less adequate facilities.
From these findings, the committee concludes that:
CONCLUSION 4: Teacher labor markets are quite localized. As a result, national statistics provide a limited understanding of the trends in the K–12 teacher workforce. Local labor markets are shaped by a
variety of factors including state rules and regulations regarding licensure, tenure, and pensions.
CONCLUSION 5: There is a mismatch between the areas of certification chosen by those preparing to be teachers and the areas in which schools and school systems struggle with teacher shortages. For example, there are often many more teacher candidates that are prepared with an elementary education credential than there are slots. At the same time, school systems often struggle to fill science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and special education positions.
CONCLUSION 6: The current racial/ethnic composition of the teacher workforce does not mirror the racial/ethnic composition of students being served in schools today. The mismatch has grown larger over the past 20 years and is an artifact of both the rapidly changing student population and historical policy decisions connected to school desegregation efforts. There is good evidence that the discrepancy has negative consequences, particularly for underrepresented minority students who often lack teacher role models.
CONCLUSION 7: Students of color, students from low-income families, and students who are low-achieving more often are served by teachers who are less qualified. These inequities have been documented across states, districts, schools within districts, and even within schools.
TEACHER EDUCATION IN RESPONSE TO CHANGING EXPECTATIONS
Preservice and inservice education both play key roles in helping teachers respond to the changing conditions of K–12 education. Creating classroom learning experiences that respond to more rigorous content standards while promoting the success of all students regardless of background is no easy task. Responding to these dual demands is likely to require significant shifts in what teaching looks and sounds like in most U.S. classrooms. Moreover, given that teachers hone their instructional practices and develop their ways of relating to students and families in the context of daily work in schools, it is important to highlight that programs of teacher preparation and continuing professional development alone are insufficient to equip teachers to meet these expectations—teacher learning in the workplace is tantamount to teacher success.
Given the current evidence, it is difficult to identify specific program designs for preservice or inservice education that will definitively lead to
changes in teachers’ instructional practice or in students’ learning. There is wide variation in preservice programs across the country, including online programs of teacher education. Over the past two decades, policy makers have supported new and flexible pathways into teaching while simultaneously moving to tighten the scrutiny of teacher education in institutions of higher education. And the overall data on preservice teacher education are limited. This presents a challenge for understanding the ways teachers are being prepared to meet the changes in the expectations of the classroom.
Similarly, inservice experiences for teachers vary widely, and there is disagreement in the research community about the strength of the evidence for effective design of professional development. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that inservice experiences alone are not sufficient for shaping teachers’ instructional practice. Rather, what teachers do in their classrooms is shaped by the nature of the social relations, material resources, and organizational conditions of the schools and districts in which teachers work. To make substantial changes to current teachers’ perspectives and practices will require significant and sustained opportunities for professional learning. Such opportunities encompass opportunities embedded in the school workplace as well as specially designed programs of professional development. A productive and large-scale response to new expectations for teaching and learning will likely depend on relationships established between external professional development providers and school leaders who are involved with overseeing local workplace conditions and learning opportunities. The committee concludes that:
CONCLUSION 8: The current landscape of preservice teacher education in the United States exists as a large, varied array of programs and pathways. In this respect, it reflects the traditions of state and local control.
CONCLUSION 9: There has been a significant growth over the past two decades in online teacher education and professional development, but very little is known about the efficacy of this increasingly prevalent mode of providing preservice and inservice education.
CONCLUSION 10: The research base on preservice teacher preparation supplies little evidence about its impact on teacher candidates and their performance once they are in the classroom. Preservice programs in many states assess the performance of teacher candidates for purposes of licensure, but few states have developed data systems that link information about individual teacher’s preservice experiences with other data about those teachers or their performance. Overall, it is difficult to assess the causal impact of teacher preparation programs.
CONCLUSION 11: Features of the school and district context in which teachers do their work matter greatly for teacher retention, for teachers’ attitudes about their work, and for how teachers’ preservice and inservice experiences translate into effective classroom instruction. Characteristics of the workplace matter for ensuring that teachers are equipped to respond to the changing expectations.
CONCLUSION 12: Induction supports for newly credentialed teachers are associated with reduced odds that teachers (a) leave the profession or (b) move schools within the first 5 years of teaching. Providing multiple supports increases the retention of teachers in the profession and reduces teacher migration in the first 5 years.
CONCLUSION 13: Based on nationally representative surveys, teachers report that they receive minimal opportunities to engage in professional development that are explicitly focused on supporting a broad and diverse student population (e.g., English learners, students who receive special education supports). Moreover, teachers report that when they do receive professional development focused on supporting specific student populations, it tends to be disconnected from the subject matter they teach.
CONCLUSION 14: There is mixed evidence about the impact of professional development on student outcomes. There is better evidence that inservice, content-specific professional development programs with the following characteristics can have a positive impact on student learning:
- work on instructional strategies is specific to the content area;
- professional development is organized around the actual instructional material teachers use;
- teachers participate with colleagues from their own school; and
- opportunities are built into the professional development sessions to discuss how to adapt the focus to teachers’ local needs.
The amount and frequency of professional development are not necessarily related to student learning outcomes; the impact depends on the quality of the professional development.
Although reports from the National Academies often provide explicit recommendations to the field, the committee notes that due to a number of different concerns, it declines to prescribe specific actions for education stakeholders to pursue. However, the committee feels strongly that there are areas that require immediate attention if the U.S. teacher workforce is
to meet changing expectations. The committee identifies four high-priority issues:
- preparing teachers to meet changing expectations;
- diversifying the teacher workforce;
- ensuring the equitable distribution of teachers; and
- mapping teacher preparation to teacher and student outcomes.
Within each of these issues, the committee offers a set of considerations that policy makers and others should attend to in order to make decisions for their specific contexts. The report also concludes with a research agenda for the scholarly community to pursue.