The Feds Decide On Which Teachers Are "Highly Qualified"
WASHINGTON -- After more than 25 years giving science tests to her middle-school students, Rebecca Pringle may have to pass one herself to prove she's qualified to teach the subject.
Pringle has bachelor's and master's degrees in education, but that's not enough under federal education law. Because she doesn't have a science degree, she'll have to take a test showing her mastery of the topic or pass a state evaluation that could include a test.
"I'm still in a state of anger and resistance," said Pringle, an eighth-grade teacher at Susquehanna Township Middle School in Harrisburg, Pa. "It's not fair to change the rules in the middle of the game. ... I have prided myself in staying current and being active in the field. For all that to be reduced to a multiple-choice test is an insult."
Around the country, public school teachers are going through a quality check. By the end of the 2005-06 school year, federal education law says, every teacher of core subjects from English to the arts must be highly qualified.
The premise of the law is widely embraced: Quality teaching leads to higher student achievement, and poor and minority students, in particular, deserve a greater supply of teachers who are well versed in their subjects.
Of 3 million teachers, it is not clear how many meet the mark. By Monday, states must report their share of highly qualified teachers and how quickly the number will rise over three years.
"Highly qualified" means teachers who have a bachelor's degree, a state license or certification and clear knowledge of the topic they teach.
It's the way the law is playing out that has many teachers unsettled.
Beverly Ingle, a sixth-grade teacher at Laredo Middle School in Aurora, Colo., is starting her 25th year teaching. She may not be highly qualified because of the way the law handles different grades.
Middle school teachers must have a college major in each subject they teach -- in her case, social studies and reading -- or pass a rigorous test in those subjects. If Ingle taught sixth grade at an elementary school, she would only have to show mastery over a basic elementary curriculum.
It's not yet clear if she'll satisfy the third option, her state's evaluation.
"It's really unfair, but what am I going to do about it?" Ingle said. "I'll suck it up, like we always do as teachers, and I'll take more classes."
States are figuring out how teachers can show mastery of their subjects without taking tests that some consider demeaning. Among the proposals: strong job evaluations, service on curriculum committees, published articles and leadership. Under the law, states may consider how long a teacher has taught a subject but, significantly, may not base their standard on that.
The law isn't meant to punish, said Eugene Hickok, the undersecretary of education.
The Education Department is working with states to address common concerns, such as: How can someone who teaches several subjects to disabled students reasonably demonstrate mastery of all those topics? What about a rural teacher who handles several grades?
At the same time, Hickok said, the law intends to make sure that longtime teachers are in class because of skills and knowledge, not because of seniority. "It's not unusual, sadly, to have 12- or 15-year career professionals in place who really aren't the kind of professionals we need," he said.
Meanwhile, the law encourages new routes to the classroom. The American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence requires teachers to pass tests in subjects and instruction ability but demands no classroom experience or traditional education coursework. Mentoring comes on the job.
"The marketplace for teachers is so much broader than we allow today," said Lisa Graham Keegan, a leader of the organization. "We just have to go get them."
The National Education Association, the country's largest teachers union, says the law should be changed to close loopholes for teachers in charter schools and those earning an alternative certification. The NEA also says states deserve more flexibility, such as with special-education teachers who handle multiple subjects.
In some cases, teachers face no extra steps. Jamie Sawatzky, a fourth-year history teacher at Rocky Run Middle School in Chantilly, Va., qualifies with a degree in his subject. But he worries the law will prevent school administrators from hiring people who have intangible qualities to be brilliant teachers.
In New Orleans, new superintendent Anthony Amato must turn around a school system that, as he puts it, is most noted for failing test scores and leadership troubles. The teacher quality assignment is another huge task, as 40 percent of his teachers are not certified to teach their subjects or not certified at all, he said.
He has added literacy and math training for teachers and worked with local universities to coordinate teacher certification programs, among other steps.
"I feel the sense of urgency from the federal government, and I don't mind at all. That's how I work anyway," Amato said. "If we can make it work here, it can be a real message to urban systems nationwide: Don't back down."
The law may prompt some veterans to retire early and may discourage people from becoming teachers, said Charlene Christopher, a special-education specialist at Norfolk Public Schools in Virginia. But some won't be fazed, she said -- the ones "who will be there until they roll us out."
And if states fall short of the teacher mandate? Greater pressure from parents could be in store, as states, districts and schools must publicize information about how many teachers miss the mark.
Ultimately, the hammer may be money. Federal officials may withhold aid that many schools rely upon, as Hickok acknowledged, although he said states are showing good faith.
"If a serious effort is being made to accomplish the purposes of No Child Left Behind, even if you fall short, that's different than a statement that says, 'We really don't care,"' Hickok said.
"Our goal is to find ways to accomplish this as a nation."
Teacher-quality requirements of the No Child Left Behind law:
-- Every public school teacher of a core academic subject must be highly qualified by the end of the 2005-06 school year.
-- Teachers of core subjects must be highly qualified now if they were hired since the 2002-03 year began and work in jobs supported by Title I, a federal aid program for poor students.
-- Core subjects are English, reading/language arts, math, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history and geography.
-- Highly qualified means that teachers must be certified or licensed to teach in their state, must hold at least a bachelor's degree and must show mastery of subjects they teach. Criteria for demonstrating mastery of subjects vary by grade and experience level of teachers.
-- New elementary school teachers must pass a rigorous state test to show teaching skills and knowledge in reading, writing, math and other areas of basic elementary level curriculum.
-- New middle or high school teachers must pass a rigorous test in all academic subjects they teach -- or they must hold an academic major, the coursework equivalent of a major, a graduate degree or advanced certification or credentials in all subjects they teach.
-- Teachers who are not new to the profession have the same options that new teachers do to prove they are competent in what they teach. But they can also be deemed highly qualified if they meet a standard set by their state.
-- No teachers who have temporary, provisional or emergency state certification or licensing will be considered highly qualified.
-- Teachers in an alternative certification program will be considered highly qualified while they complete the program, provided it meets conditions, such as ongoing guidance for teachers.
-- States must publish a yearly report card, including the percentage of classes not taught by highly qualified teachers. School districts that receive Title I money must do the same.
-- Any school that receives Title I money must notify parents if their child has been taught for four or more consecutive weeks by a teacher who is not highly qualified.
-- Any school district that receives Title I money must ensure that low-income and minority students are not taught by unqualified teachers at higher rates than other students.
-- States must produce a plan by Sept. 1 that sets annual, measurable goals for increasing their number of highly qualified teachers.
The move to get a top teacher into every major class
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES