Hartford Press Uncritical of NCLB Requirements for Aides
Ohanian Comment: In Connecticut, people seem to think higher pay will come with higher qualifications. Dream on. I discuss the new qualifications for aides at some length. This is an important topic, worth discussion. See:
More than two-thirds of classroom aides in Connecticut's neediest schools fail to meet standards under President Bush's school accountability law, a new state report says.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act sets rigorous standards for students, teachers and others, including paraprofessionals, many of whom now will be required to pass tests to demonstrate their competence.
Some educators believe the law, signed by Bush last year, will upgrade the status of a job characterized by low pay and, in some cases, minimal qualifications.
"By and large, I think this is a fantastic thing," said Ginny Lynch, a 20-year veteran classroom aide in East Hartford public schools, who said she is confident that she will pass a qualifying test. "It gives us more respectability and recognition of our value."
The law already has prompted at least one Connecticut school system to lay off aides who did not have high school diplomas.
In a report to the U.S. Department of Education last week, state officials filed data on several measures of school quality monitored under the law. Although fewer than 4 percent of Connecticut's teachers failed to meet qualifications, about 70 percent of paraprofessionals fell short, the report said.
The standards are part of a wide-ranging law designed to revamp public education in America, including a broad expansion of student testing and a shake-up of schools that fail to produce results.
In schools that receive federal Title I money, the No Child Left Behind Act defines highly qualified teacher aides as those who have at least two years of college, an associate's degree or a passing score on a qualifying test.
"Paraprofessionals play important roles in assisting teachers," said Stephanie Babyak,a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education. "Unfortunately, studies have shown that in many Title I schools paraprofessionals have been used for teaching or assisting teaching when their backgrounds do not qualify them."
Some states require teacher aides to be licensed, but Connecticut does not.
Many school systems, including those in the state's biggest cities, rely on paraprofessionals to provide tutoring or other instruction under the supervision of certified teachers.
"The profession has changed from babysitter to `the other educator,'" said Lynch, president of the East Hartford Federation of Paraeducators.
Although many aides do not have college degrees, most should be able to pass a qualifying test, Lynch said.
In Bridgeport, which employs about 380 teacher aides, the federal law prompted schools to lay off 25 aides who did not have high school diplomas. The school system now is enrolling some paraprofessionals in college courses and providing study groups for others to help them pass the qualifying exam, officials said.
Patrice McCarthy, general counsel for the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said the law's requirements might make it more difficult for schools to fill the low-paying jobs. Even though many aides do not meet the new requirements, "I don't think it's compromising the educational experience children are receiving," she said.
In the report to the federal government, state officials also provided data on other school issues, including an assessment of school safety. The federal law requires states to identify schools found to be "persistently dangerous," but state officials examined three years of suspension and expulsion data and found that no public schools fit that category, the report said.
Robert A. Frahm
Report Finds School Aides Lacking
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES