5 States That Need Great Teachers

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When it comes to education in the U.S., experts may disagree on how to improve student achievement and outcomes, but not on the point that education matters. When students succeed, the nation stands to benefit. Perhaps one of the most important variables in that equation: quality teachers. According to a 2012 study from Harvard University, when high performing teachers enter the classroom, student's test scores improve almost immediately and their lifetime earnings tend to improve dramatically. Of course, some states are in more desperate need of qualified teachers than others, and -- if low scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress are any indication -- the following five states are among them.


When Education Week published its 2013 "Quality Counts" report, Alabama found itself in an interesting position. The state's education system was ranked 30th in the nation. What may sound like a lukewarm score at best surprised experts -- and the media -- since Alabama education is generally known for rating poorly in areas like per-pupil spending, and math and reading proficiency. Alabama appears to be making progress, but it can only continue to do so if it invests in high quality teachers. A 2012 Future Teachers Association report suggests Alabama faces a shortage of qualified teachers in a number of subjects and grade levels, including art, music and special education.

The University of Alabama's College of Education is perhaps one of the state's best-known teaching programs. It offers specialized training at both the undergraduate and graduate level through a number of departments, including curriculum and instruction; special education; music education; and educational leadership, policy and technology studies. Students attending UA's Honors College can also choose to minor in education, potentially broadening their career options upon graduation. In its 2014 rankings, U.S. News & World Report named UA's graduate education programs among the top 100 in the nation.


As with Alabama, Arizona's 2013 rankings in Education Week's "Quality Counts" generated headlines, but not with the same sentiments. Arizona education ranked 43rd in the nation for overall quality, and its D- rating in the Teaching Profession category was partly to blame. The message is clear: Arizona needs to create policies that foster quality teaching.

One college that's trying to deliver better-trained teachers is Arizona State University. ASU education students can earn undergraduate, master's and doctoral degrees in a broad range of specialties, and the school's iTeachAZ program -- the only program of its kind in the state -- more than doubles the amount time dedicated to student teaching. The school offers minors and professional certificate programs as well. As an added bonus, in its 2014 rankings, U.S. News & World Report rated ASU's graduate education programs among the top 25 in the nation.


A 2013 report from the state's Commission on Teacher Credentialing (PDF) suggests that enrollments in California education programs are declining at a precipitous rate. In hopes of reversing this trend, the California Legislature passed a bill giving schools more flexibility when designing teacher training programs. In other words, California is working overtime to attract quality teachers, and schools like the University of California, Los Angeles are doing their parts. UCLA's diversity of teacher training programs at its Graduate School of Education & Information Sciences allows students to take specialty courses that suit their goals and interests. Education majors can specialize in areas like educational leadership, urban schooling and even human development, and can pursue degrees at the master's or doctoral level. UCLA also offers a minor in education, letting undergrads test the waters. UCLA's education training efforts haven't gone unnoticed: U.S. News & World Report named the college's graduate education programs the eighth-best in the country in their 2014 rankings.


Louisiana made headlines in 2013 when it jumped several spots on Education Week's "Quality Counts" report to be ranked 15th in the nation for overall educational quality. Yet according to other metrics reported by The Examiner, the state has a long way to go. Various organizations consistently rank Louisiana near the bottom in areas like science and math education, and in 2010, its statewide graduation rate was just 67 percent. Part of the problem, notes the article, is the need to develop -- and incentivize -- more quality teachers. Some teachers come from Louisiana State University, which says its College of Education is the largest in the state. Students can earn bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in a diversity of subjects and grade levels, and those studying to become K-12 teachers can get extensive hands-on field experience through the University Laboratory School. Students can also choose to minor in education or pursue a dual major in education and another field. U.S. News & World Report rated LSU 100th nationally in its 2014 rankings for its graduate education programs.


Like other states featured on this list, Tennessee tends to fare poorly when it comes to standardized test scores, including fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading proficiency, and the ACT. Not all news is bad news, however: The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported in 2012 that Tennessee was making gains in various education rankings, and that investing in teacher quality might be at least partly to credit. Sandy Hughes, president of the Hamilton County affiliate of the Tennessee Education Association, told the publication that Tennessee was leading the charge nationally in teacher reform efforts by working to narrow pay gaps. The state is also one of the few that review international data when making major policy decisions or reforms. In the end, however, Tennessee still needs more qualified teachers if it hopes to maintain its momentum. The University of Tennessee in Knoxville is contributing to that goal by training future teachers in a number of subjects and specialties, including areas like art or special education. Many programs are highly focused or accelerated. The school's PreK-4 program, for instance, focuses on children from birth through age 8, and graduates can walk away from the program with both a bachelor's and master's degree, and the requisites to pursue their Tennessee teaching certification. In its 2014 rankings, U.S. News & World Report ranked UT's graduate-level education school 51st in the nation.

It starts with you (and the right education)

If you want to make a difference in education as teacher in your state -- or any state, for that matter -- the journey begins with the right training and certification. The programs featured here are a good place to start, but not all programs work for every student. We recommend contacting a number of teaching schools directly to find one that suits your goals and interests.

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