K-12 Teacher Quality: Issues and Legislative Action


Publication Date: June 2004

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service


Research Area: Education



The quality of elementary and secondary school teachers is increasingly recognized as a critical element in improving education. Policymakers seeking to address teacher quality face many serious challenges. Among these challenges are the lack of consensus on what makes a teacher effective, the vast size and decentralized organization of K-12 education, and problems with teacher supply and demand.

The federal government is not responsible for the preparation, hiring, and work life of teachers; these responsibilities rest with states and localities. Nevertheless, the federal government, primarily through the U.S. Department of Education (ED), provides substantial resources to strengthen the K-12 teaching force.

Recently, the focus of federal support has expanded beyond in-service training to include greater emphasis on teacher preparation, recruitment, and hiring. Further, the federal government is attempting to strengthen accountability for teacher quality. There is continuing interest in providing broad, flexible assistance coupled with accountability.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (P.L. 107-110) reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), replacing the Eisenhower Professional Development program and the Class Size Reduction program with a single formula grant program supporting an array of activities to improve the elementary and secondary teaching force. In addition, among other provisions, the reauthorized ESEA includes a separate program of math and science partnerships to improve teaching in those fields.

In amending the ESEA, the No Child Left Behind Act also established requirements that K-12 teachers be "highly qualified" and set deadlines for when those requirements had to be met. These highly qualified teacher requirements have generated questions about their implementation, some of which ED has sought to address through regulations and non-regulatory guidance.

The Higher Education Act (HEA) authorizes funding to improve K-12 teacher preparation programs in higher education institutions. It includes accountability provisions for the quality of the graduates from these programs. It also supports efforts to increase teacher recruitment. The 108th Congress is acting on legislation to reauthorize HEA . Legislation amending the teacher provisions of the HEA was passed by the House on July 9, 2003, and on June 2, 2004.

This report will track major legislative action as it occurs.