ERIC Identifier: ED279634
Publication Date: 1986-00-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education
Misassignment of Teachers in the Public Schools. ERIC Digest
Public criticism of the quality of teaching in the schools has put
pressure on teacher education programs to improve curriculum. But the problem of
quality instruction may rest to a large extent with administrators who assign
teachers inappropriately in the schools and with state education agencies that
sanction the practice (Council for Basic Education, 1985). One estimate is that
more than 200,000 teachers in the United States are assigned to teach subjects
and grade levels outside their areas of certification (Roth, 1986). This digest
considers the reasons why administrators misassign staff, the degree of such
misassignment, the places where it occurs, its effects, and, finally, who is
responsible for it.
WHY ADMINISTRATORS MISASSIGN STAFF
Assignment of teachers outside their state-certified subjects and grade
levels is a well-established management technique used in public schools
nationwide (Robinson, 1985). Misassigning teachers, or placing them
"out-of-field," is the common response to a teacher shortage. Projections
indicate that by 1988 teacher education program graduates will number 77,270,
meeting only 80.5 percent of the expected need for additional teachers (Masland
and Williams, 1985). Other reasons for misassignment include overload (which
occurs when there are too many sections of a subject for one teacher but not
enough sections to justify the hiring of another teacher), underload (which
occurs when a specialized teacher does not have a full class load), and a school
district's desire to offer as many classes as possible (Robinson, 1985).
In many states, misassignment of teachers is legal. Arizona, Alaska, Hawaii,
New Hampshire, Nebraska, and Utah have no restrictions on the practice. Fifteen
states allow certified teachers to teach subjects for which they are uncertified
for part of the day. For example, Alabama permits teachers to spend 49 percent
of their instruction time on subjects outside their certification area.
Tennessee allows teachers to instruct one subject outside the certified area for
a maximum of two periods a day (Council for Basic Education, 1985).
Most states remain unaware of illegal misassignments even though they require
schools to report all teacher assignments near the beginning of the academic
year (Robinson, 1985). States usually do not check these assignments against
certification records. Reasons given by states for not verifying certification
include the lack of computers and difficulties in maintaining up-to-date files
that include summer study in-service credits. One exception is Rhode Island,
where assignments are checked immediately and schools are notified to correct
any misassignments. Rhode Island school districts may be required to return all
state aid money used toward the misassigned teachers' salaries until the
teachers are given in-field assignments (Council for Basic Education, l985).
On-site checks of teacher assignments occur about every five years in most
states. Penalties for misassignments, however, are minimal. Schools with
misassigned teachers typically receive a lower accreditation rating if teacher
loads are not adjusted within a year (Council for Basic Education, 1985).
EXTENT OF MISASSIGNMENT
Since states rarely monitor misassignment practices, exact figures reflecting
the problem's extent nationwide remain unavailable. Roth (1986) estimates,
however, that about 12.4 percent of all newly hired teachers (approximately
26,300) are not certified in the fields to which they are assigned.
Studies conducted in some states for the 1983-84 school year show alarming
figures. For example, Mississippi estimated that 1,319 high school teachers were
assigned out-of-field for part of the day. Washington reported that 42 percent
of 2,988 middle school classes surveyed were taught by teachers out-of-field.
Utah, with no restrictions on out-of-field teaching, reported the percentage of
misassigned teachers in various subjects ranged from 7.9 to 88.8 percent
(Council for Basic Education, 1985).
WHERE MISASSIGNMENTS OCCUR
Between 25 and 33 percent of all new math and science teachers nationwide are
not certified in those fields (Rumberger, 1985). The 1983-84 state studies
showed that misassignments in Washington occurred frequently in math, science,
language arts, and history. The most common out-of-field assignments in
Mississippi were in social sciences, followed by general science, math, and
English. Utah misassignments occurred most often in science, followed by math,
foreign languages, language arts, and social studies (Council for Basic
Education, 1985). A 1981 study in North Carolina revealed that 60.1 percent of
the state's reading teachers were out-of-field, followed by teachers in math
(37.3 percent), science (30.4 percent), health (23.8 percent), and English (22.5
percent) (Robinson, 1985).
These figures show a trend for misassignments to occur at the school
curriculum's core. Administrators seem to avoid misassigning teachers to
subjects, such as vocational education or art, that require observable skills.
The assumption appears to be that any teacher can instruct core courses with a
good textbook and supplementary materials (Council for Basic Education, 1985).
RESULTS OF MISASSIGNMENTS
Misassignments affect student learning. For example, declining test scores
have been reported nationwide for high school students in math and science:
subjects in which teacher shortages are acute and many misassignments occur
(Masland and Williams, 1983). A study conducted by Hawk and others (1985) found
in-field math teachers knew more about the subject and used more effective
teaching practices than out-of-field math teachers. As a result, in-field
teachers' students achieved at a higher level than the other students. Effective
reading teachers need considerable training (The New York Times, 8 October
1985). Thus, misassigning teachers to elementary school reading classes can
hamper the students' acquisition of the skill.
Teachers suffer from being misassigned. They cannot achieve professional
status since administrators are not allowing them to use their specialized
training (Robinson, 1985). Masland and Williams (1983) question why states
require a major or minor in mathematics for certification when the school
district considers a social studies major sufficient preparation for teaching
math. Teachers placed out-of-field lose confidence in the value of their
professional training and may decide to leave the profession (Masland and
Teacher education programs, school districts, and state education agencies
share responsibility for misassignment (Masland and Williams, 1983). Teacher
education programs continue to offer curricula that prepare teachers for surplus
areas while neglecting the development of programs to attract students in
shortage areas. There is a lack of cooperative planning between school district
officials and teacher educators to provide programs that meet long-range
certification and retraining needs.
School districts misassign teachers to fill classrooms but do not communicate
to the public that there is a staffing problem. They are not open to creating
part-time and shared-time teaching positions or to reassigning personnel to the
classroom (Watts, 1986). They also avoid interschool or interdistrict
cooperation and skillful recruiting (Robinson, 1985).
State education agencies mandate complex certification requirements and then
allow out-of-field teaching. Most states do not thoroughly investigate
misassignment, nor do they end the practice when it is found in school districts
Many states are increasing the number of courses required for high school
graduation and decreasing class size in elementary schools (Robinson, 1985).
Such regulations create pressure for misassignment. This runs contrary to the
assertion that "ending out-of-field teaching would be the one most effective,
and certainly the cheapest, way to improve the quality of education in the
United States" (Council for Basic Education, 1985).
Council for Basic Education with American Federation of Teachers. MAKING DO
IN THE CLASSROOM: A REPORT ON THE MISASSIGNMENT OF TEACHERS. Washington, DC: The
Council for Basic Education, 1985. ED 263 108.
"'Dirty Little Secret' of Unlicensed Teachers." THE NEW YORK TIMES, Oct. 8,
1985, section C, p. 8.
Hawk, Parmalee P., Charles R. Coble, and Melvin Swanson. "Certification: It
Does Matter." JOURNAL OF TEACHER EDUCATION 36 (l985): 13-15.
Masland, Susan W., and Robert T. Williams. "Teacher Surplus and Shortage:
Getting Ready to Accept Responsibilities." JOURNAL OF TEACHER EDUCATION 34
Roth, Robert A. "Emergency Certification, Misassignments of Teachers, and
Other 'Dirty Little Secrets.'" PHI DELTA KAPPAN 67 (1986): 725-727.
Robinson, Virginia. "Out-of-Field Teaching: Barrier to Professionalism."
AMERICAN EDUCATOR 9 (1985): 18-23.
Rumberger, Russell. "The Shortage of Mathematics and Science Teachers: A
Review of the Evidence." EDUCATIONAL EVALUATION AND POLICY ANALYSIS 7 (1985):
Watts, Gary D. "And Let the Air Out of the Volleyballs." PHI DELTA KAPPAN 67