NCLB standard may not be best for some schools
Ohanian Comment: The editorialist is wildly optimistic about the ultimate intent of NCLB.
The law of unintended consequences is at work with provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act that are effective for this school year.
The act, aimed at increasing accountability for student achievement in the nation's public schools, requires that, beginning this school year, all teachers must be "highly qualified." The law provides states with some limited flexibility in determining what constitutes a "highly qualified" teacher. To be "highly qualified" in Georgia, teachers must have a bachelor's degree and a teaching certificate, must pass two tests in the subject they teach and must hold their teaching certificate in that subject.
At first glance, the federal requirement and the state's interpretation of that requirement seem perfectly sensible. In fact, the state requirements seem to delineate little more than what should be expected of a minimally qualified educator.
Nonetheless, the requirement that schools be staffed with "highly qualified" teachers is likely to create problems for some of the state's more rural school systems.
In this part of the state, there are a couple of examples at Oglethorpe County High School of the unintended consequences of the requirement for "highly qualified" teachers. In one instance, a teacher whose background includes collegiate work in human anatomy and physiology as a physical education major at the University of Georgia wouldn't be considered "highly qualified" in those areas because his certification is in health and physical education. Getting the needed certification will require the teacher to take additional college courses and pass a couple of certification tests.
In another instance, the teacher of the high school's yearbook class isn't "highly qualified," despite the fact he attended college on a journalism scholarship, because he's not certified to teach English.
So there are situations in which teachers who are obviously competent to teach a given class could nonetheless hurt their school's effort to have "highly qualified" teachers in every classroom, simply because they don't have a piece of paper proving their clearly evident competency.
In Georgia's rural school systems, teachers are often called upon to teach more than one subject. While the "highly qualified" teacher standard is an obvious step toward getting students the education they deserve, it's a standard those rural systems will have difficulty reaching because of the burden it will place on teachers, who will now need certification in multiple subjects.. That's got to be doubly frustrating for school systems like Oglethorpe County, where teachers who are clearly qualified won't be viewed as such under the act.
Public school administrators have been on notice since 2001, the year the No Child Left Behind Act became law, that they are expected to produce significant improvements in student achievement in coming years. That's a laudable public policy goal, and it's fitting such a goal is articulated in a piece of legislation applicable to the entire country.
But that goal, if - or, more hopefully, when - it is met, will be met by school administrators serving their local communities, and not by the state or federal governments. To that end, local administrators should be given wider latitude in meeting the ultimate objective of No Child Left Behind, which is, quite simply, better-educated students.
As long as progress toward that goal is being made - as measured by the numerous standardized tests administered to students at various grade levels - the federal and state government should leave it to local school districts to discover the best ways for their communities to meet those goals.
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES