Linda Benedict, Schafer, Mark J., Fannin, J. Matthew "Matt"
Don Asay, Mark J. Schafer and Matt Fannin
Teacher quality is important to student learning and as such has been made a cornerstone of the 2001 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) initiative. Part of the legislation mandated that all teachers in core areas meet the individual state requirements to be classified as highly qualified by the end of the 2005-2006 (later revised to the 2007-2008) school year. NCLB legislation defined core areas as English language arts, mathematics, reading, science, foreign language, civics, history, geography, economics and the arts. Individual states were given the autonomy to define what skills and credentials would be used to classify a teacher as highly qualified. To accomplish this requirement, the Louisiana Department of Education set out requirements in September 2003 outlining the various ways by which a teacher could be considered highly qualified to meet NCLB requirements.
State Definition of Highly Qualified Teachers
The standards adopted for both new and existing teachers differed based on circumstances surrounding the individual teacher’s level of education and years of experience in the profession. Existing or “not new” teachers with at least one year of teaching experience were given several options to show they were highly qualified to teach core courses with the caveat that these requirements be met by the 2007/08 school year. In many ways the requirements for “not new” teachers are similar to the requirements expected of new teachers entering the profession but make some provision for the experience of those who have teaching experience. Much like the requirements for new teachers detailed below, the requirements for existing teachers differ based on the grade level and the ability to attain the high-quality label while teaching.
New teachers entering the profession are required to meet different requirements based on the grade level they teach. The three classifications are elementary teachers (Grades 1-5), middle school teachers (Grades 6-8) and high school teachers (Grades 9-12). All teachers regardless of grade level need to hold an education teaching certificate or a special education certificate specified for the grade levels at which they will be teaching. In addition to holding this certificate, teachers at the elementary level must pass a state subject-specific examination for appropriate content. New teachers at the middle school and high school levels must pass the subject-specific licensing examination or hold the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in the core subject area being taught.
Statewide Growth In Courses Taught by Highly Qualified Teachers
The state of Louisiana reports the number of courses taught by highly qualified teachers within each school as well as in aggregate within each school district. Teachers can be highly qualified in specific subject areas but still be asked to teach in other subject areas outside their area of expertise For this reason in 2003, the state of Louisiana started counting the number of courses within each school district that were taught by teachers that held highly qualified status in the area being taught. In addition to reporting the number of courses taught by highly qualified teachers, the state also includes a breakdown of the number of courses taught by those with emergency certification, including those who are working towards becoming highly qualified teachers.
Within Louisiana there has been a slight decrease in the percentage of courses taught by highly qualified teachers. As shown in Figure 1, the statewide percentage has decreased since 2003 from 90.5 percent to 88.8 percent. This change can be attributed to various factors, but most prevalent is the sharp decrease between the 2004/05 school year and the 2005/2006 school year that coincides with the Gulf hurricanes. There were more than a dozen parishes that experienced more than a 20 percent decrease in the number of courses taught by highly qualified teachers. The parishes that experienced the largest declines were Claiborne Parish (33.2 percent decrease), Jefferson Parish (32.3 percent decrease), Vernon Parish (29.4 percent decrease), Natchitoches Parish (26.2 percent decrease) and St. John the Baptist Parish (26.1 percent decrease). Statewide increases and decreases between each year are in Figure 2.
The state as a whole has been making modest gains each year in their goal to ensure that each student receives instruction from a highly qualified teacher. Between the 2003/04 school year and the 2010/11 school year, 41 districts saw a growth in the percentage of courses taught by highly qualified teachers. Still, increases and decreases in the percentage of courses taught by highly qualified teachers vary by parish and school district as well as whether or not these districts are located in a rural area. The largest gains over the past decade have been in two of Louisiana’s smallest parishes, East Carroll Parish and St. Helena Parish. Each experienced gains in the number of courses taught by highly qualified teachers around 40 percent.
Growth in Highly Qualified Teachers by Urban or Rural Parish
For this study, rural parishes were defined using the U.S. Census Bureau’s standard definition of Metropolitan Statistical Areas. Any parish within an MSA is defined as urban, and any parish inside a Micropolitan Statistical Area or outside of a CBSA is currently defined as rural. City-based school districts such as Monroe, Bogalusa, Zachary, Baker and Central or the Recovery School District are not included in the following analysis.
Rural parishes experienced a greater decline in the percentage of courses taught by highly qualified teachers after hurricanes Katrina and Rita (between the 2004/2005 and 2005/2006 school years), showing an 11 percent decrease compared to an 8.7 percent decrease among non-rural schools. Since the 2005/2006 school year, both rural and non-rural districts have experienced an increase in the percentage of courses taught by highly qualified teachers, but the growth among rural schools has been at a slightly slower pace than non-rural schools. Since 2005/2006, non-rural schools have experienced an 11.1 percent increase in the percentage of courses taught by highly qualified teachers. Since 2005/2006, rural schools have experienced a smaller 8.2 percent increase. See Figure 3.
The recruitment and training of highly qualified teachers has been a priority both nationally as well as in Louisiana since the introduction of the 2001 No Child Left Behind legislation. It is interesting to note that before the hurricanes of 2005, more than 90 percent of the courses taught in Louisiana were taught by highly qualified teachers. Seven years after the hurricanes, recruitment and training of additional teachers has almost brought the state back to its pre-hurricane average. When examining the extent to which courses are taught by highly qualified teachers in the state as well as in individual parishes and school districts, it is important to take into account changes as a result of hurricanes, as well as geography and demographic shifts over the past decade.
Don Asay is a graduate student in the Department of Sociology, and Mark J. Schafer and Matt Fannin are associate professors in the Department of Agricultural Economics & Agribusiness.
Louisiana Department of Education: District and State Level Teacher Quality http://www.laeducationresults.net/State/Teacher_Quality.aspx?RecordID=000
Pop Quiz: Louisiana’s Definition of Highly Qualified http://www.louisianaschools.net/lde/uploads/4656.pdf
Bulletin 746: Louisiana Standards for State Certification of School Personnel, the Louisiana definition of Highly Qualified Teacher and Highly Qualified Paraprofessional. http://www.louisianaschools.net/lde/uploads/3636.pdf