States Lower Standards for ‘Highly Qualified’ Teachers

Published September 1, 2004

Just about everyone agrees that the quality of the teacher in the classroom is by far the most important factor affecting student achievement. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) reflects that consensus by requiring school districts to put a “highly qualified” teacher in every classroom by 2006. In 1999-2000, the U.S. Department of Education estimated only 54 percent of U.S. middle and high school teachers were rated as highly qualified.

To be deemed highly qualified, teachers must have a bachelor’s degree and full state certification and demonstrate competency in the subject area they teach. Although a teacher would most commonly meet the requirement for subject area competency by having a major in the subject area taught, NCLB allows other ways of meeting the requirement, leaving it up to the states to set standards for who is highly qualified.

The Chicago Tribune recently reported that NCLB’s “highly qualified” teacher requirement, instead of leading to higher teacher licensing standards, has in fact led at least a dozen states to lower their licensing requirements. For example, Pennsylvania dropped a new test for middle school teachers when too many teachers couldn’t pass. In Maryland, New Hampshire, and Virginia, the basic skills tests for teachers were made easier to pass.

Earlier this year, Illinois quietly dropped its requirements for out-of-state teachers to take either a basic-skills or subject-area test. Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, and West Virginia also have lowered their requirements for out-of-state teachers.

A new route to teacher licensing that would provide consistency across states is the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE), whose “Passport to Teaching” certification has been approved in Florida, Idaho, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania. ABCTE certification is awarded to prospective teachers who can meet the following requirements:

  • hold a bachelor’s degree or higher;
  • pass a background check;
  • pass an exam on professional teaching knowledge; and
  • pass an exam on appropriate subject-area knowledge.

George A. Clowes ([email protected]) is managing editor of School Reform News.

For more information …

Further information on the “Passport to Teaching” from the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence is available online at