No Child Left Behind Act:
Improved Accessibility to Education's Information Could Help States Further Implement Teacher Qualification Requirements
GAO-06-25: Published: Nov 21, 2005. Publicly Released: Nov 21, 2005.
The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) of 2001 established qualification requirements that teachers of core academic subjects must meet by the end of the 2005-2006 school year. Congress has appropriated approximately $3 billion a year through the Title II, Part A (Title II), of NCLBA for teacher improvement programs since the law was passed. With the deadline approaching for all teachers to meet the requirements, GAO was asked to examine (1) the status of state efforts to meet NCLBA's teacher qualification requirements, (2) the use of Title II funds in selected districts, and (3) how the U.S. Department of Education (Education) monitors states and assists them with implementation of the requirements. To obtain this information, GAO reviewed teacher qualifications data submitted to Education by 47 states, conducted site visits to 6 states selected for variance in factors such as teacher requirements and geographic location, visited 11 school districts across these states identified as high-need, and interviewed national experts and Education officials.
Data reported to Education by 47 states suggest that the majority of core academic classes were taught by teachers who met NCLBA requirements during the 2003-2004 school year. States have improved in their ability to track and report the percentage of core academic classes taught by teachers who met NCLBA qualification requirements, but several limitations on the quality and precision of state-reported data make it difficult to determine the exact percentage of core academic classes taught by teachers meeting the requirements. Five of the 6 states that we visited allowed veteran teachers to demonstrate subject matter competency through a state-developed procedure called High Objective Uniform State Standard of Evaluation (HOUSSE). Officials in states and districts that we visited said that teachers of multiple subjects, such as teachers in rural schools with a small teaching staff, would likely face challenges meeting the requirements by the 2005-2006 deadline. The 11 school districts that we visited all used Title II funds to provide professional development, and most used Title II funds to reduce class size. Officials in the majority of these districts indicated that NCLBA had led to improvements in the kinds of professional development they funded with Title II funds. Although officials in over half of the districts indicated that they continued to use Title II funds to reduce class size, an activity that was supported under a federal program that predated NCLBA, some district officials told us that they had shifted funds away from class size reduction to initiatives designed to improve teachers' subject matter knowledge and instructional skills, such as professional development. All districts that we visited reported considering student achievement data and targeting Title II funds to improve instruction in the academic subjects in which students were lagging behind. In the 11 districts, few efforts funded with Title II targeted specific groups of teachers, such as teachers in high-poverty schools. Title II funds constituted a small proportion of total funds that districts could use for teacher improvement initiatives, and all districts that we visited used several other funding sources to support their teacher programs. Education monitored state efforts to meet the teacher qualification requirements and offered multiple types of assistance to help teachers meet the requirements. In monitoring states, Education has found several areas of concern, such as states not ensuring that certain newly hired teachers met NCLBA's requirements. Education's assistance has included professional development for teachers and site visits to provide technical assistance to state officials. Education officials said that their Web site has been an important tool for disseminating resources about the requirements, but officials from most states and districts that we visited told us that they were unaware of some of these resources or had difficulty locating them, despite frequently using the Web site.
Recommendation for Executive Action
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: The Department of Education (Education) immediately took steps in response to the GAO recommendation and reorganized information related to the teacher qualification requirements on its Web site. Specifically, Education created a category for documents related to the highly qualified teacher requirements on the "Policy" section of its Web site. The documents related to the implementation of these requirements, such as letters to state chief school officers and Title II monitoring reports, are consolidated under that category. In addition, Education made the various online resources for teachers more accessible through its Web site by creating a more prominently-displayed "Teachers" tab. By clicking on that tab, users are transferred to a Web page that includes a variety of teacher resources, including links to the Teacher-to-Teacher initiative and state and local initiatives to improve teacher qualifications. According to an Education official, all these steps were designed to make the Web site easier for its users to navigate.
Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should explore ways to make the Web-based information on teacher qualification requirements more accessible to users of its Web site. Specifically, the Secretary may want to more prominently display the link to state teacher initiatives, as well as consider enhancing the capability of the search function.
Agency Affected: Department of Education