Document Type


Publication Date



Pedagogical skills, subject-area expertise

Series Title

Office for Education Policy

Series Number

Volume 02 Issue 05


The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act mandates that states require all teachers to earn full certification and demonstrate competency in the subject area in which they teach. But do these requirements really produce effective teachers— teachers who actually improve student learning and achievement? The existing research base is decidedly mixed, highly politicized, and often just plain confusing. Some experts maintain that teachers’ pedagogical knowledge shows even stronger relationships to teaching effectiveness than their subject matter knowledge (Darling-Hammond, 1997; Darling-Hammond & Youngs, 2002); others insist that teachers’ expertise in their content area is a far better predictor of student achievement (Ballou & Podgursky, 2000). Shortly after the implementation of NCLB, the U.S. Department of Education issued its first annual report, Meeting the Highly Qualified Teachers Challenge (2002), in an attempt to make sense out of these conflicting research findings. Despite the fact that NCLB requires teachers to be fully certified, the Department concluded that “there is little evidence that education school [pedagogical] course work leads to improved student achievement” (p. 19), adding that “virtually all” of the studies linking certification to student achievement are “not scientifically rigorous” (p. 8). The Department’s conclusions were based in large part upon a literature review written by Kate Walsh for the Abell Foundation in 2001, which claimed that there is “no credible research that supports using the teacher certification process as a regulatory barrier to teaching” (p. 5). It should be noted that Walsh’s report was also vigorously objected by other researchers such as DarlingHammond & Youngs (2002).