More Graduates with High Academic Scores Now Enter Teaching

Dan Goldhaber,, 206-547-1562, CEDR, University of Washington
Joe Walch,, CEDR, University of Washington
Ashley Inman,, 707-332-1184, Education Next Communications Office

More Graduates with High Academic Scores Now Enter Teaching

Average SAT performance of first-year teachers rose between 1993 and 2008

New research indicates that the academic caliber of new teachers, entering the profession with a bachelor’s degree, has risen substantially since the early 2000s. The average SAT scores of first-year teachers in 2008 was 8 percentile rank points higher than the average score among those who entered teaching in 2001. In fact, contrary to cohorts of new teachers in earlier years, the average SAT score of new teachers in 2008 exceeded that of college graduates entering other professions, and this is true for both college students with math and science majors as well as those with other majors.

The study’s authors, Dan Goldhaber and Joe Walch of the University of Washington, note that “it is unclear whether this improvement reflects a temporary response to the economic downturn or a more permanent shift.” Regardless of the reasons for the changes in academic proficiency, they say, “the data are encouraging and may represent a reversal of the long-term trend of declining academic talent entering teaching.”

Goldhaber and Walch use a variety of data sets to look at demographic and academic changes in the teaching profession. The data indicate that high-scoring math and science majors were relatively more likely to become teachers in 2008 than in the past, but there has been little change in the likelihood that math and science majors as a whole choose to enter the teaching field. Consequently, in 2008, only 30 percent of math and science classes were led by teachers who majored in math or science in college, the same as in 1993. While increasing numbers of school districts offer pay incentives to address math and science staff shortages, the authors conclude that “compensation and working conditions must evolve further if school systems are to address the challenge of staffing math and science classrooms with teachers of strong academic caliber.”

The authors also find that teachers in the workforce in 2008 had completed somewhat more schooling than their predecessors: approximately 51 percent held a master’s degree or higher compared to 47 percent in 1987. Other research has shown that more-selective colleges and universities have become less likely to offer undergraduate programs that allow teacher certification in four years. The study shows that the share of prospective teachers gaining formal teacher preparation through a graduate rather than undergraduate program has risen sharply over time, from about 45 percent in 1990 to about 63 percent in 2010. Of teachers who report having one year or less of teaching experience, approximately 26 percent entered teaching with a master’s degree in 2007–08 compared to 17 percent two decades earlier.

To evaluate the claim that No Child Left Behind and other test-based accountability policies are making teaching less attractive to academically talented individuals, the researchers compare the SAT scores of new teachers entering classrooms that typically face accountability-based test achievement pressures (grade 4–8 reading and math) and classrooms in those grades that do not involve high-stakes testing. They find that new teachers in high-stakes classrooms tend to have higher SAT scores than those in other classrooms, and that the size of this difference increased between 2001 and 2008. This suggests that more academically proficient teachers are not generally shying away from classrooms that face accountability pressures.

The article, “Gains in Teacher Quality: Academic capabilities of the U.S. teaching force are on the rise,” will be published in the Winter 2014 (November) issue and is available now at

About the Authors

Dan Goldhaber is director of the Center for Education Data& Research (CEDR) at the University of Washington, where Joe Walch is a research consultant. An unabridged version of this article is available at The authors are available for interviews.

About Education Next

Education Next is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution that is committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform. Other sponsoring institutions are the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, part of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. For more information about Education Next, please visit:

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