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Demand to Prove Skills Enrages Veteran Teachers

Joanne Peurach has taught language arts to students like Katie Chaklos, left, and Jamie Fratto for 17 years. But under the No Child Left Behind Act, the Novi Middle School teacher is not considered "highly qualified" in the subject.;

Educators hustle to meet controversial portion of federal act

By Maureen Feighan, and Christine MacDonald

Joanne Peurach and other Metro Detroit teachers are angry about a component of the No Child Left Behind Act that requires teachers to be "highly qualified" by 2006.

What constitutes highly qualified?

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, teachers must have a bachelor's degree, state certification and one of the following to be considered highly qualified:

Note: The Michigan Department of Education is coming up with the final details of some ways to meet the new federal standards.

1-Pass the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification in each subject area they teach.

2-A master's degree or equivalent undergraduate degree in the subject they teach.

3-Complete national board certification in the subject they teach.

4-Demonstrate competence in subject matter, knowledge and teaching skills by using a performance assessment evaluated by a local professional-development review team.

5-Three years of teaching experience and 18 semester hours in a planned program.

NOVI — For 17 years, Novi Middle School teacher Joanne Peurach has helped students navigate the world of language arts — crafting paragraphs, creating transitions and learning punctuation.

But despite nearly two decades in the classroom and a master’s degree from Marygrove College, Peurach isn’t considered highly qualified to teach language arts under President Bush’s sweeping education reform, the No Child Left Behind Act. However, a 23-year-old teacher Peurach mentors is qualified.

“It’s totally an insult,” Peurach, 44, said. “If you were to do this to any other profession, they wouldn’t stand for it.”

Across Metro Detroit, veteran teachers are enraged over a controversial component of the No Child Left Behind Act that requires every teacher in the United States to meet the new standard of “highly qualified” by the end of the 2005-06 school year.

Under the law, highly qualified teachers are defined as those who have a bachelor’s degree, state certification and a passing score on Michigan’s certification test in each subject area they plan to teach. Also meeting the requirements are teachers who have a master’s degree or equivalent undergraduate course work in their subject area or national board certification.

Advocates of the new standards say teachers need to be as proficient as possible if school and student performance is expected to improve. But teachers who’ve spent decades in the classroom instructing subjects they may not have majored in say their experience should speak for itself.

“The thing that is most upsetting to people is that we have people who have had very, very successful careers, and now to say they’re not highly qualified is just unbelievable,” said Terri Moblo, head of the Novi Education Association, which represents 450 teachers. “And even if teachers want to become highly qualified, there’s no financial incentive.”

Tom Weisz, a Franklin father of three, understands why teachers might be insulted by the standards, but says it’s imperative they are as well-trained as possible.

“I understand that someone who’s been teaching for a long time may feel threatened or not be able financially to do (graduate work to meet the standards), but I think keeping up skill sets are tremendously important,” said Weisz, an advertising executive.

The guidelines have sent districts across Metro Detroit scrambling to find out who is and isn’t qualified and what to do next to comply with the law. State education officials estimate about 5,500, or 5 percent, of Michigan’s roughly 110,000 teachers don’t meet the new standards.

Veteran middle and high school teachers who teach a subject they minored in will be affected most by the requirement because many of them started teaching before Michigan implemented its teacher certification test in 1993. Peurach is among them. She majored in history and political science and minored in English at Western Michigan University. Her master’s degree is in the mastery of teaching, not English.

“I’ve been doing this for 17 years and now, all of sudden, I’m considered not qualified?” Peurach said.

But as insulting as teachers may find the standards, experts say districts have no choice but to comply. The requirements are essential to helping student performance, said Sandy Kress, a Texas attorney who helped construct the No Child Left Behind law as former senior education adviser to President Bush.

“If we are going to expect kids in Detroit to get gains in physics, astronomy, math ... they have to have teachers who know that content,” Kress said.

Six options to change

To prove their proficiency, teachers who don’t meet the standards have at least six options to change their status by 2006. They include taking the state test in the subject areas they teach, earning a master’s degree in the subject area they teach, or presenting a portfolio of their achievements to district-appointed assessment team.

Teachers who don’t meet the new federal standards by June 30, 2006, could face consequences.

Under the law, teachers at least must be working on meeting the requirements by the time the deadline arrives. If they’re not, districts will be required to send home letters to parents informing them their children are in a class being taught by a teacher who isn’t highly qualified, said Flora Jenkins, director of the Office of Professional Preparation Services in the Michigan Department of Education.

The letter requirement already applies to teachers hired since 2002. But that’s a moot point in Michigan since teachers have been required to take certification tests in each area they teach since 1993.

Under Michigan law, certified teachers legally can teach the subjects in which they majored and minored in college and are required to update their certification every five years. The effect of No Child Left Behind in Michigan, Jenkins said, is to require teachers to prove their competency if they’re teaching a subject they minored in.

“The No Child Left Behind legislation is saying, ‘OK, you’ve got to go back now and make sure those people can demonstrate how they’re highly qualified to teach those subjects,’ ” Jenkins said. “The assumption is not that they’re not highly qualified. The assumption is that they’re highly qualified, now show me how. Let them demonstrate how they’re highly qualified.”

But many longtime teachers say their experience should speak for itself.

Kathleen Ponder has taught social studies for the past 15 years in Armada Area Schools in northern Macomb County and has been the department chairwoman at Armada Middle School for the past 10. Yet she isn’t qualified under federal law because she majored in English and minored in social studies.

“It’s a slap in my face that I have to go back and take a test,” said Ponder, who has been a teacher for 30 years and has a master’s degree in secondary education. “It’s insulting. I’ve paid my dues.”

Ponder wonders why the state hasn’t adopted a point system that gives veteran teachers credit toward becoming highly qualified as some states, such as Kansas, have. Jenkins said the Michigan board of education considered it but decided that type of system wasn’t rigorous enough to show if a longtime instructor was successfully teaching his or her subject areas.

Some teachers, meanwhile, worry the standards could even lead to layoffs in some districts. If a teacher refuses to meet the new standards, administrators may be forced to switch that teacher from instructing classes he or she minored in to classes he or she majored in, which might create a surplus of qualified teachers for certain subjects.

“If my folks weren’t willing to go get the test, it might mean laying someone off because I have more people in one area than I need and not enough in another area,” said Linda Sell-Farver, principal of Crestwood High School in Dearborn Heights. “So it would be a juggling act. The smaller districts, I don’t know what they’re doing.”

Biting the bullet

Still, some districts are just biting the bullet and urging teachers to take the certification test in the areas they now teach.

“I think some people are offended,” said Karen Zyczysnki, head of the Livonia Education Association, which represents more than 1,200 teachers in the district. “(But) what we say to them is, ‘If you’ve been teaching this for 15 years, you should have no problem taking the Michigan teacher test,’ and then it will be done.”

Crestwood Schools in Dearborn Heights is taking that approach one step further. The district will pay for the 12 teachers who aren’t considered highly qualified at Crestwood High School to take the certification test in January at Cobo Center, Sell-Farver said. Most of the 12 are social studies or science teachers, she said.

Aside from taking the test, one option several veteran teachers say they’ll pursue to meet new standards is developing a portfolio.

The portfolio would showcase their teaching practices, additional training they’ve had since becoming teachers and even student test scores. Instructors then will have to present those portfolios to a district assessment team.

Jenkins, of the Michigan Department of Education, said many longtime teachers don’t know about the portfolios yet because she’s just finished developing the framework for how the process will work. She’ll begin disseminating information to districts in January.

Peurach, in the meantime, said she’s leaning toward trying to become nationally board certified to meet the new standards. She would have to go through a detailed process that basically requires her to demonstrate she’s competent to teach language arts.

“In principle, I don’t think it’s a bad thing” to have teachers prove their competency in their subject area,” Peurach said. “I just think it needs to be fair, make sense and not be demeaning and insulting.”

You can reach Maureen Feighan at (734) 354-4047

— By Maureen Feighan, and Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News





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