• by Kristin Grayson, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • February 2009

A successful school reform effort cannot ignore the fact that improving teaching quality is of the utmost importance. Dr. María Robledo Montecel, president and CEO of the IDRA, describes IDRA’s Quality School Framework by defining the critical components that must be addressed in any comprehensive school reform effort that will be sustained over time. This article will define teaching quality within this framework and will clarify this concept along with similar terms, such as teacher quality, that are used in federal and state legislation, teacher preparation and development, and current academic research. This will serve as a source of information to guide school leaders, administrators and teachers as they make critical decisions in areas such as hiring, curriculum and professional development.

What is Teacher Quality?

There is great emphasis today, in part due to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), on teacher quality in schools. NCLB has given impetus to states to improve teacher quality by requiring schools to have a qualified teacher in every classroom. These requirements are one step in addressing inequities in schools that occur when a high percentage of teachers in a given school are teaching out of their areas of certification. For example, 1993-94 federal government data show that high minority schools had higher levels of teachers teaching out of the field in which they had certification, with percentages ranging from 27 percent of teachers in high minority schools teaching out of area as opposed to 13 percent in low minority schools (Ingersoll, 2000).

The term quality teacher is defined by NCLB and used for state implementation as a teacher who: (1) has, at a minimum, a bachelor’s degree; (2) has full state certification or licensure; and (3) demonstrates subject area competence in all the subjects that he or she teaches. State governments, in addition to certification criteria, also are required by Title I to improve teacher quality through professional development and other initiatives.

Sadly, however, inequities in teacher quality continue to persist as they have over the past 23 years. When schools have greater numbers of teachers teaching out of the field in which they are qualified, there are large numbers of students underachieving and/or leaving school before graduation.

A 2007 study of 14,000 students in 197 elementary schools found that collective teacher quality is related to greater school effectiveness, equity outcomes, and student achievement in math and reading, in particular where student subgroups (English language learners, low-income, etc.) were clustered (Heck, 2007).

A specific Texas example that illustrates the possible attrition relationship is in the low minority Highland Park High School in Dallas where the percent of teachers teaching out of field is 11 percent and its attrition rate is only 6 percent. In contrast, at Edgewood Memorial High School in San Antonio, the out-of-field and attrition percentages are 22 percent and 40 percent, respectively. While there are other variables, schools that have teachers teaching within their areas of certification are correlated with higher student achievement.

Today, schools continue to lose high numbers of students when teachers do not meet the minimum criteria. Unfortunately, schools also are losing high numbers of students even when taught by “highly qualified” teachers. The rate at which Texas students leave high school before graduation is 33 percent, which is the same rate that it was more than 20 years ago when IDRA began its attrition studies.

Additionally, the gaps between attrition rates for White students and Hispanic students and between White students and African American students have grown. Since 1985-86, the attrition rate gap for Hispanic students has increased from 18 percent to 26 percent. For African American students the gap has increased from 7 percent to 20 percent. (Johnson, 2007)

Clearly, the dreams of the Brown vs. Board of Education and the Mendez vs. Westminster court cases have not been fulfilled. There are still many children who are being left behind. It is apparent that IDRA’s mission of “creating schools that work for all children” is far from being realized. Many students are leaving public schools unprepared to support themselves, their future families and the larger communities in which they live. There is work yet to be done.

IDRA’s work emphasizes that teacher quality also must accompanied by teaching quality within the context of a supportive organizational school and community structure as exemplified in the Quality Schools Action Framework.

What is Teaching Quality?

For IDRA, teaching quality refers not only to the teachers’ credentials, but also to the perspective teachers bring to the classroom, the instructional strategies that they use, and the surrounding organization of the school and community. This multi-layered approach is supported by research, including the previously discussed study by Heck (2007).

Another study by Okoye, Momoh, Aigbomian and Okecha (2008) shows that the combined variables of teacher quality and instructional strategies are correlated with student achievement. Torff (2005) purports that lack of pedagogical skill and knowledge is a bigger threat to teacher quality than are certification issues.

Berliner (2005) describes teacher quality as a teacher who shows evidence of certain qualities of teaching in the lives of students. These qualities include more than assessing knowledge on a certification test. Teacher qualities also must include: “the logical acts of teaching (defining, demonstrating, modeling, explaining, correcting, etc.); the psychological acts of teaching (caring, motivating, encouraging, rewarding, punishing, planning, evaluating, etc.); and the moral acts of teaching (showing honesty, courage, tolerance, compassion, respect, fairness, etc.).” IDRA’s construct of teaching quality encompasses this current research.

IDRA’s framework for teaching quality guides IDRA professional development and its mentoring and coaching work. At its core is an underlying set of beliefs and values that include:

  • All students bring assets to the learning environment that must be used as their educational foundation;
  • All teachers also bring assets to the learning environment that must be used as a base to enhance professional growth and skills;
  • Professional development and/or mentoring and coaching is best done by building a community of learners where all stakeholders collaborate, create and initiate changes; and
  • The guiding vision of student engagement encompasses the classroom, the school, the family and the community.

What is IDRA Doing to Improve Teacher Quality and Teaching Quality?

IDRA works tirelessly on many initiatives to support students not only through schools but also with families, communities, higher education, and educational research and policies that impact students.

 – When working directly with schools and teachers, IDRA begins with a contextual analysis in order to understand the organizational and sociological influences that affect the teachers’ and schools’ strengths and opportunities for change and growth. Without an understanding of the context, a plan for growth cannot be implemented.

 – The context is also essential to building a community of learners (Villarreal and Scott, 2008). IDRA works to foster this community through online communication and planning, showcasing teachers and schools in workshops and online, valuing their input and opinions, and listening to what they and their students say they need.

The contextual analysis also includes student feedback about their linguistic and background experiences, their learning preferences, and their level of self-efficacy for learning specific subject material. All students are recognized as bringing assets to the learning environment, and students learn best when empowered to be partners in the learning process. Students are part of the community of learners.

 – Within IDRA professional development programs, a model of coaching and mentoring is used to provide in-class assistance as an essential step following workshops. This coaching and mentoring process is individualized to supplement the teacher’s strengths by modeling and demonstrating strategies and content that can enhance the teacher’s instruction. Steps of this process might evolve from an in-class lesson demonstration by the consultant or a specific strategy demonstration that is followed by a teacher demonstration with supportive coaching. All of the in-class assistance is followed by a collaborative reflection over accomplishments, lessons learned and goal setting. IDRA acknowledges that professional development is not a “one size fits all” solution but has to be specific to the teacher, student, school and district.

 – Quality teaching cannot happen in isolation. Engaging the student in the classroom and classroom instruction cannot happen unless there is engagement in the larger context. It only happens when all the surrounding pieces of the larger system are in place. The structure of the school, the school leadership and the community also are essential to quality teaching. These components will be addressed in future issues of the IDRA Newsletter.

The non-negotiable in the IDRA vision of teaching quality is that schools must work for all students. All students must be prepared to meet necessary academic goals so that none drop out, none are left behind, and the dream of an equitable education for all can be achieved.


Berliner, D.C. “The Near Impossibility of Testing For Teacher Quality,” Journal of Teacher Education (2005) 56 (3), 205-213.

Heck, R. H. “Examining the Relationship Between Teacher Quality as an Organizational Property of Schools and Students’ Achievement and Growth Rates,” Educational Administration Quarterly (2007) 43 (4), 399-342.

Ingersoll, R.M. “Teacher Quality, The Inequity,” Student Achievement and School Accountability Conference presentation, unpublished (University of Georgia, 2000).

Okoye, N.S., and S.O. Momoh, D.O. Aigbomian, R.E. Okecha. “Teachers’ Quality, Instructional Strategies and Students’ Performance in Secondary School Science,” Journal of Instructional Psychology (2008) 34 (4), 204-211.

Torff, B. “Getting it Wrong on Threats to Teacher Quality,” Phi Delta Kappan (2005) 87 (4), 302-305.

Villarreal, A., and B. Scott. “IDRA’s Community of Learners Approach to Instructional Quality-Three Critical Questions that are Rarely Asked in a Curriculum Audit,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, March 2008).

Kristin Grayson, M.A., is an education associate in IDRA’s Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2009, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 2009 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]