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California Teachers Fail Federal Criteria

Ohanian Comment: Distinguished researcher Gerald Bracey has said that the purpose of No Child Left Behind is to destroy public education. And here's how they're doing it. Not content with devising impossible formulas that are labeling huge percentages of schools as failing, the feds are also labeling teachers as failing. They do this without seeing the school, the students, or the teachers. And they do it to make vouchers look both attractive and necessary.

Question: What are the requirements for being a "highly qualified" politician?

Teachers in nearly two-thirds of California's classrooms fail to meet tough new federal standards, according to state estimates.

The standards, part of the federal No Child Left Behind law, exceed California's teacher credential requirement, the bar the state uses to determine which educators are fit.

Schools will need to launch a round of evaluations to ensure that all teachers - even veterans who faced different credential requirements - know their subjects before the law's fall 2005 deadline.

Already, 293 Orange County schools that get federal money for low-income children must meet the rule and advise parents if they don't comply.

But school officials say they have no guidelines for conducting evaluations, no extra money and little time to get them done. The state's recently released estimate itself is uncertain, a guess made to meet a federal Sept. 1 reporting deadline.

"No one is happy with it," said Debbie Rury, education policy consultant for the state Board of Education. "It will be an administrative responsibility that will take time and effort that they simply don't have."

Under the federal definition, a "highly qualified" teacher holds a bachelor's degree, a credential and expertise in the subjects they teach.

In California, the subject requirement is the sticking point. New teachers must pass subject tests if they are going to teach elementary school or, for older grades, have majored in the subject they will teach.

Teachers with minors in their subjects are out of compliance. So are many veteran teachers who were only required to take college classes in their subjects, not pass tests proving their knowledge.

"The point is, if you are just hobbling along with a few courses, you are probably not going to have all the subject matter you need to be successful," said Rene Islas, special assistant to the U.S. secretary of education.

"Just because you have been teaching for 20 years doesn't necessarily mean that you have that subject-matter knowledge."

Take Jennifer Anderson.

The Saddleback third-grade teacher has taught for 10 years and earned a master's in education, but she wasn't tested in her subjects. Anderson likely would not be considered highly qualified until she is evaluated. But three new teachers whom she mentored likely would make the grade.

"To deem a teacher unqualified because of new standards is unjust and unfair to teachers," said Anderson, who teaches at La Tierra Elementary.

Teachers in intern programs, who have yet to earn credentials but have passed subject tests, fit the federal definition of "highly qualified." That includes teachers like Andrea Cortez, who is starting her third year teaching in Santa Ana. She is going through teacher training but has passed a multisubject test.

Cortez teaches second grade at Madison Elementary.

She said she feels like she has improved as a teacher in the intern program but is still learning.

"As a new teacher, I have a lot of respect for teachers who are already teaching," Cortez said.

Educators say the idea of the law is laudable.

Many California schools long have been forced to hire emergency-credentialed teachers with little training or subject knowledge. The problem is especially critical in high schools, where, for example, an English teacher may take on a math class.

Other states also are struggling. A federal report released last week shows that about half the country's secondary teachers are highly qualified.

But Orange County districts have made great strides in finding fully credentialed teachers - hitting 93 percent in 2002-03. And they are expected to surpass that mark this year due to layoffs and class-size increases compelled by the budget crisis.

Fullerton School District, for example, got about 1,000 applications for about 40 jobs. Placentia-Yorba Linda received about 650 applications for about 100 positions.

Anaheim City has hired only fully credentialed teachers for regular classes for the past few years even though it is one of the most overcrowded districts in the state.

Schools with low-income children don't plan to notify parents if they have fully credentialed teachers who have yet to be evaluated.

Year-round schools, like those in Anaheim, Santa Ana and Orange, are required to send out such warning letters in the next few weeks. Some districts plan to send letters only about emergency-credentialed teachers.

"Our teachers are highly qualified, and we're not going to say that they are not because they haven't passed the (evaluation) process. That would be so unfair to them to say they are not qualified because we don't even know what the process is," said Loretta Davis, human-resources director for the Anaheim City School District.

Fullerton Elementary District plans only to send letters about new teachers who might not fit the criteria. Mark Douglas, Fullerton's assistant superintendent, said it would take staff months to go through teacher files to figure out if they fit the criteria and then another year or two to evaluate those who don't.

"I don't think it's going to be well-received," Douglas said. "It's a rather strong statement of question, and no one likes to be questioned about their professional abilities."

State officials said they will soon ask districts to turn in more information so they can come up with a better calculation of the number of "highly qualified" teachers.

If schools don't have enough qualified teachers by 2005-06, they must develop agreements with the state to come into compliance.

Noncompliant schools could lose federal funds.

Here are the federal requirements to be "highly qualified":
Elementary teachers:
Hold a bachelor's degree.
Have a credential or are enrolled in an intern program.
Pass a test on subjects they teach.
Current teachers can prove that they know their subjects.
The evaluation process is being developed but could include classroom observations, portfolios of student work and lesson plans.
Secondary teachers:
Hold a bachelor's degree
Have a credential or are enrolled in an intern program.
New teachers must show they know all subjects they teach by way of a subject test or having majored in the subject.
If existing teachers do not meet these criteria, they can prove that they know their subjects through the evaluation process.

— Sarah Tully
Teachers fail federal criteria
Orange County Register
July 21, 2003


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