Humanities Indicators
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K-12 Education  >  Primary- and Secondary-School Faculty
 
Qualifications of Humanities Teachers in U.S. Public High Schools
(Updated September 2015)

In the 2011–2012 school year, approximately 279,800 teachers in the humanities subjects of English, French, German, Latin, Spanish, and history taught millions of students in the nation’s public high schools. To measure teachers’ level of preparation, the National Center for Education Statistics’ Schools and Staffing Survey (NCES, SASS) examines the fields in which they received their teaching certificates and postsecondary degrees. Having both a degree and certification in a subject does not ensure that a teacher will provide quality instruction, but research suggests that teachers’ credentials have at least some bearing on student outcomes, and they remain central to the public policy debate about teacher quality.

Findings and Trends

  • Results from the most recent SASS show that the academic credentials held by public high school educators differ widely by subject area (Indicator I-9a). In music, 87% of teachers with a principal assignment in the subject held a postsecondary degree in the subject and were certified to teach in the field. In comparison, only 26% of history teachers with a principal assignment in the subject had both credentials (note that not all states offer teacher certification in history). And while only 2% of music teachers lacked both certification and a degree in the field, 34% percent of history teachers lacked both credentials. The SASS data indicate that at least some history teachers without a degree in the discipline did have a degree and/or certification in social studies, general social science, or another social science discipline. (NCES, like several other data sources on which the Humanities Indicators relies, treats history as a social science discipline rather than as one within the humanities; please see “Note on the Credentials of ‘Social Science’ Teachers in Public High Schools” for further explanation of the relationship between the “history” and “social science” categories.)
  • In the languages, 73% of teachers of German had both a college major and certification in the discipline, as compared to 71% for French, 69% for English, 63% for Spanish, and 49% for Latin.
  • Due to variation in class size and the fact that some high school teachers provide instruction in multiple subjects, the share of teachers with a given qualification and the share of students taught a given subject by teachers with such a qualification can differ. For instance, while 73% of teachers of German had both a certification and a major in the subject, just 66% of students taking the language were taught by someone with both qualifications (the widest reported gap among the academic subjects examined here; Indicator I-9b).
  • Public high school students in music classes were the most likely to be exposed to a teacher who was both certified in and possessed a degree in the subject matter being taught, with 85% of such students having a teacher who had both qualifications.
  • Aside from music, less than 73% of students in each of the other major subjects were taught by a teacher with both a college major and certification to teach the subject, ranging from 72% of students in the natural sciences down to 23% of students in history.
  • Although 53% of students taking history were learning from teachers with a degree in the subject, only 23% of history students found themselves in classes led by a teacher with both a college major and certification in the subject (note that not all states offer teacher certification in history). However, 68% of students taking social science courses (which include history courses) had a teacher with both a major and certification in general social science (including social studies) or a constituent discipline, suggesting that some students are taught by instructors who lack history credentials but do have a background in the social sciences. (Please see the “Note on the Credentials of ‘Social Science’ Teachers in Public High Schools” for further explanation of the relationship between the “history” and “social science” categories.)
  • The percentage of public high school students taught by a teacher with both certification and a degree was similar across the living languages, ranging from 67% among students in English classes to 64% for students of Spanish.
  • From 2004 to 2012, every academic subject saw a declining percentage of students taught by a teacher with a postsecondary degree in that subject. The largest decline occurred in history, where the percentage fell from 66% to 54% (Indicator I-9c). While still above the levels recorded in the 1990s, the share for 2012 is the second recorded decline since the peak in 2004.
  • The percentage of public high schoolers learning English language and literature from a teacher with a postsecondary degree in the subject fell from 83% in 2004 (the highest level recorded) to 79% in 2012 but remains higher than in the late 1980s, when the U.S. Department of Education began collecting these data. The downward trend for English since 2004 is similar to that observed in natural science and mathematics (in which 78% and 70%, respectively, of students in 2012 had a teacher with a postsecondary degree in the subject).
I-9a: Percentage of Public High School Teachers with Certification and a Postsecondary Degree in the Subject of Their Main Teaching Assignment, for Selected Subjects, 2011–2012

* The Natural Science category aggregates teachers of general science and specific science disciplines (e.g., chemistry). Such teachers are considered to hold a credential in the subject they teach if the degree or certification is in general science or a specific science discipline.
** The Social Science category includes (and treats as credentialed in social science) history teachers who have a postsecondary degree and/or certification in general social science (including social studies) or a constituent discipline. (The collector of these data treats history as a social science discipline rather than as one within the humanities field.) See the "Note on the Credentials of ‘Social Science’ Teachers in Public High Schools” for further explanation of the relationship between the “history” and “social science” categories.
! Interpret data with caution. The standard error for this estimate is between 30% and 50% of the estimated value.
† The population in this category was too small to achieve a reliable estimate.

Source: Jason Hill and Chelsea Stearns, Education and Certification Qualifications of Departmentalized Public High School–Level Teachers of Selected Subjects: Evidence from the 2011–12 Schools and Staffing Survey(Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2015), 19 table 2.

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I-9b: Percentage of Public High School Students in Classes Taught by an Instructor with Certification and a Postsecondary Degree in That Subject, for Selected Subjects, 2011–2012

* The Natural Science category aggregates teachers of general science and specific science disciplines (e.g., chemistry). Such teachers are considered to hold a credential in the subject they teach if the degree or certification is in general science or a specific science discipline.
** The Social Science category includes (and treats as credentialed in social science) history teachers who have a postsecondary degree and/or certification in general social science (including social studies) or a constituent discipline. (The collector of these data treats history as a social science discipline rather than as one within the humanities field.) See the “Note on the Credentials of ‘Social Science’ Teachers in Public High Schools” for further explanation of the relationship between the “history” and “social science” categories.
! Interpret data with caution. The standard error for this estimate is between 30% and 50% of the estimated value.
† The population in this category was too small to achieve a reliable estimate.

Source: Jason Hill and Chelsea Stearns, Education and Certification Qualifications of Departmentalized Public High School–Level Teachers of Selected Subjects: Evidence from the 2011–12 Schools and Staffing Survey (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2015), 29 table 7.

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I-9c: Percentage of Public High School Students in Classes Taught by an Instructor with a Postsecondary Degree in That Subject, for Selected Subjects, 1988–2012

* The Natural Science category aggregates teachers of general science and specific science disciplines (e.g., chemistry). Such teachers are considered to hold a credential in the subject they teach if the degree or certification is in general science or a specific science discipline.
** Data not collected for this subject in 1988.
! Interpret data with caution. The standard error for each of the estimates for this subject is between 30% and 50% of the estimated value.

Source: For years 1988–2000: Marilyn M. Seastrom et al., Qualifications of the Public School Teacher Workforce: Prevalence of Out-of-Field Teaching 1987–88 to 1999–2000, Statistical Analysis Report NCES 2002-603 Revised (Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, 2002), 62 table B-9. For 2004: Beth A. Morton et al., Education and Certification Qualifications of Departmentalized Public High School–Level Teachers of Core Subjects: Evidence from the 2003–04 Schools and Staffing Survey, Statistical Analysis Report NCES 2008-338 (Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, 2008), 27 table 5. For 2008: Jason G. Hill, Education and Certification Qualifications of Departmentalized Public High School–Level Teachers of Core Subjects: Evidence from the 2007–08 Schools and Staffing Survey, Statistical Analysis Report NCES 2011-317 (Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, 2011), 20 table 5. For 2012: Jason Hill and Chelsea Stearns, Education and Certification Qualifications of Departmentalized Public High School–Level Teachers of Selected Subjects: Evidence from the 2011–12 Schools and Staffing Survey (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2015), 29 table 7.

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