Data First

Brought to you by The Center for Public Education

Home > Data Center > Are our teachers knowledgeable in the subject they teach?

National Data

Research report, Not Prepared for Class: High-Poverty Schools Continue to Have Fewer In-Field Teachers, released in November 2010 by The Education Trust reveals the stark disparities between state reported data and self-reported data from teachers on teacher qualification. That is, an analysis of the U.S. Department of Education’s 2007-08 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS)—based on reports from teachers—indicates that the actual out-of-fi eld rate is three times as high as the state-reported rate.

In fact, 15.6 percent of secondary core academic classes are taught by a teacher with neither certification nor a major in the subject area taught, an improvement of just over one percent since 2003-04.

And despite efforts outlined in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001, there remains clear income-based inequalities for access to highly qualified teachers. In high-poverty schools, more than one in every fi ve core classes (21.9 percent) is taught by an out-of-fi eld teacher, compared with one in nine classes or 10.9 percent in low-poverty schools

Data Source

The Education Trust calculated the out-of-field data for its 2010 report Not Prepared for Class: High-Poverty Schools Continue to Have Fewer In-Field Teachers (page 4).  Results are available only at the state level.


For students to reach high academic standards, middle and high school teachers must have a strong command of the subjects they teach. The Education Trust examined this issue by calculating the percent of secondary classes in core academic subjects that are taught by teachers lacking at least a minor in the field. The Education Trust analyzed data from the 2003-2004 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), which is the most comprehensive federal survey of the experiences and conditions of American schoolteachers.

How to Use the Data

According to the Center for Public Education’s guide on teacher quality, a significant body of research shows that teachers’ subject-matter knowledge influences student achievement. The Education Trust study provides state-by-state data on how well teachers are grounded in their subject area.

How the details were measured

The data is presented as the percent of secondary classes in core academic subjects that are taught by teachers lacking at least a minor in the field. The researchers defined secondary as grades seven through twelve and core academics subjects as math, history, English, and the sciences. The data can be broken down by high- and low-poverty schools and by high- and low-minority schools.

Limitations of the data

The data does not examine how well teachers are prepared to teach a subject nor does the study provide any measure of teacher effectiveness. The data also does not account for non-traditional ways that teachers might acquire subject-matter knowledge, like professional experience. The data also does not look at content-knowledge teacher tests or if teachers must pass such exams in order to get a professional license.

Key Questions to Ask

Are certain students more likely to be taught by an out-of-field teacher?

According to the Education Trust study, an out-of-field teacher is 48 percent more likely to teach a class in a high-poverty school than a low-poverty one. Yet students in high-poverty schools need more knowledgeable teachers, not less knowledgeable ones. Many states like Tennessee have comprehensive data about teacher qualifications. You should be sure to examine school-level teacher data broken down by race and poverty in order to better understand how your teachers are distributed locally among schools.

How is out-of-field teaching calculated locally?

There are different methods for calculating the percent of teachers teaching out of field. Some look only at high school teachers with a minor, while others examine all secondary teachers who have a major in the field. When comparing local rates to national ones, you should be sure you are comparing apples to apples and that the data has the same underlying definition.

Learn More

There are other sources of state and local data on teacher qualifications. SchoolMatters, for instance, presents school-level data on teachers’ highest degree earned for most states. The data shows the percent of teachers in a school with a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and a Ph.D. SASS also has other state-by-state data on teachers’ background and qualifications, including the percent of teachers who report that they passed a teaching test before entering the classroom.

Additional Resources

Demonstrating success:

A no-excuses approach to school improvement in Bisbee, Arizona—Although many educators have concerns about placing too much emphasis on standardized test results, this district uses them to make decisions about curriculum and instruction that is based on solid data and provides teachers with a basis for focused interventions.

Hamilton County (Tenn.) schools nurture good teachers—This district faced challenges with teacher retention, but after using a multifaceted approach to help teachers find a professional home the situation is improving.