No Teacher Left Behind
Ohanian Comment: What we need here is more information on the National Council on Teacher Quality. Who are they?
Since being enacted in 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act has primarily targeted student achievement: How they are taught and tested.
But three years later, another provision of the highly controversial education legislation is taking aim at teachers. The act requires that all public school teachers be deemed "highly qualified" by the end of the 2005-2006 school year, and as the deadline quickly approaches, school districts across the country are scrambling to meet the requirement.
Locally, the Southern Cayuga Central School District was the only district that has 100 percent highly qualified teachers as of the 2003-2004 academic year.
"There are a lot of things that need to be done to keep up with the growing standards," Cato-Meridian High School principal Michael Rizzi said. "For all school districts, there is just so much."
In the past, states were able to decide independently what constitutes as a qualified teacher. Now the NCLB states that all teachers of core academic subjects must be certified and demonstrate high levels of competency in the specific fields they are teaching.
Extensions are hard to come by, so many districts have been working double time to bring their numbers up all while trying to make sure no teacher is left behind.
Many education officials believe the act's guidelines do not clearly outline what "100 percent highly qualified" means.
"There are many pieces of the No Child Left Behind act that are proving problematic," New York State United Teachers spokesman Carl Korn said. "It was written with the best intentions in mind, but a lot of unintended consequences have started to surface."
Many states have struggled miserably with the provision. In 2003, federal officials criticized North Dakota for having more the 4,000 teachers who did not meet NCLB's highly qualified definition. According to state reports, at least 30 percent of the state's 8,500 teachers were teaching one or more courses outside of their certified area. National Council on Teacher Quality President Kate Walsh said filling every classroom with a highly qualified teacher is difficult for many states. Nationally, there is a high shortage in qualified candidates in areas like special education and foreign language, leaving school districts with very few options.
"This is a very lofty goal to try and set for all states," Walsh said. "Nationally, most states just aren't doing well."
Walsh believes that many education systems are outdated and states should be pushed to reach higher levels of achievement, but that many schools have put off adopting the federal regulations. Walsh blames state officials for not pushing districts to change their current systems.
But she also blames the federal government for waiting until recently to start letting schools know whether or not they are reaching the NCLB standards.
"The 2006 deadline was reasonable when it was set in 2001, but so many states have just insisted on doing things the old way," Walsh said. "So many states are looking for ways to jury-rig their current systems and it isn't going to work,"
NCLB requirements vary from state to state.
New York state's requirements apply to all public schools, including BOCES programs, county vocational education schools, charter schools and special art schools. The requirements apply to all teachers in these institutions that teach core academic subjects in grades kindergarten through 12. These subjects include English language arts, mathematics, science, history, geography, economics, civics and government, foreign languages and the arts.
"We used to be able to have tech teachers teaching home and careers," Weedsport Superintendent Steven Hubbard said. "You can't do that any more. That alone might bring you down a percent."
Definitions of "highly qualified" vary based on a teacher's teaching assignment. Teachers working in elementary schools, middle schools and high schools all teach in different areas. Elementary teachers need to be knowledgeable in all common branch subjects, whereas middle and high school teachers tend to teach more specific subjects.
Southern Cayuga English teacher Ann Poorman believes it is important for teachers to obtain their certification, but that the state's given timelines limit how much hands-on experience teachers can obtain while also working on that certification. To help develop some of that hands-on experience, the state Board of Regents is requiring that new teachers must complete a mentor experience in their first year of teaching.
Employing districts are responsible to provide such mentoring and must incorporate the design and planning of such experiences into the district's professional development plan.
"A mentor can help a new teacher with everything from how to fill out a sub form to how to formulate a lesson plan," Cato-Meridian middle school principal Sean Gleason said. "It is also important to have someone teach you about the culture of a school and get you acquainted socially."
The regents have established a number of pathways to certification other than traditional teacher education. Programs include alternate teacher certification programs and certification though an individual evaluation. Auburn is one of the many districts that utilizes the Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES' certification office, which helps teachers working on a limited timeline to update their certification more quickly.
Many districts are also working with faculty who were teaching before the state reevaluated their standards. According to Skaneateles Assistant Superintendent of Pupil Personnel Services Kathryn Carlson, for older teachers it is simply a matter of filling out the proper paperwork and maintaining staff development and updating certification.
"Meeting the state's standards is more about recordkeeping and keeping up with current requirements," Carlson said.
Under the current regulations, all teachers - old and new - are required to keep their certification active in order to remain, or obtain, high qualification.
In addition to the new teacher mentor program, Cato-Meridian has developed a Masters Teacher Program. While this program also teams up teachers in a mentoring program, it requires teachers trying to achieve a master teacher level to show they can obtain parent involvement, instructional strategies and an education portfolio.
Most local districts also provide in-house staff development programs, which are designed to help teachers share ideas about student achievement. "With all of the new testing and programs being implemented, it is important we give staff members time to work together on building curriculum," Hubbard said. "It gives teachers a scope on what students are being tested on and how everyone should be teaching to reach those goals."
As part of each school district's yearly report card issued by the New York State Education Department, schools are rated on how many highly qualified teachers they have in relation to the number of courses offered.
One option districts have to show they are meeting the state standards is the High Objective Uniform State Standard of Evaluation (HOUSSE). This evaluation allows teachers to demonstrate their competency. Districts are also required to fill out applications and other papers to document their success, all of which must be turned into the SED.
"We need to have people who are qualified not just in art of teaching but in the subject they are teaching as well," said Jonathan Burman of the state Education Department. "Under NCLB, every child deserves that opportunity."
According to Walsh, it is not clear what the consequences for noncompliance will be. Officials in President Bush's administration have stated they intend to withhold federal funding if the requirements are not met, but the law does not explain what groups will be targeted and how much funding will be lost.
"The federal government is going to be very hard pressed to punish schools who do not reach 100 percent," Walsh said. "Especially if schools don't meet the requirements for areas like special education. It was hard to fill those positions before; the new regulations are making it even harder."
Some states are taking aim at the regulations. On April 19, the Utah Legislature passed a bill which gives state education standards priority over the ones being imposed by NCLB. Though the bill may cost Utah $76 million in federal funding, officials are arguing the federal requirements do not allow for enough flexibility and restrict the state's ability to educate students. While other states may agree with Utah, they have yet to pass their own legislation against the requirements.
"States need to start communicating with their districts about the needs of the state and what changes need to occur," Walsh said. "This law is not the first to challenge our education system, and challenge is what we need."
Staff writer Ashley Lipsky can be reached at 253-5311 ext. 235 or
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES