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NCLB Rates Montana Teacher of the Year Not Highly Qualified

Ohanian Comment: Highly qualified is one of the great weasel words of NCLB. One of many parts of the legislation intended to undermine public confidence in their schools.

HELENA – Montana’s newest Teacher of the Year recently won the state’s top education award, but she’s still not “highly qualified” by federal standards.

Alyson Mike, a science teacher from East Valley Middle School in East Helena, was recently named Montana’s 2004 Teacher of the Year, but her credentials don’t match new teacher standards laid out by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

State education officials are hoping that meetings later this year with representatives from the U.S. Department of Education can reach an accommodation so Montana’s current teacher standards can remain in place.

Members of the federal Teacher Assistance Corps from the U.S. Department of Education are visiting Nov. 18 to discuss the “highly qualified teacher” component of the No Child Left Behind Act, and U.S. Undersecretary of Education Eugene Hickok, who was originally scheduled to visit Montana Nov. 13, is visiting the state Dec. 12.

“The overriding purpose of the visit is so people can understand the implementation of the law,” said Chuck Butler, Gov. Judy Martz’s spokesman. “You’ve got to make some accommodations for rural America.”

Many rural states like Montana object to the new teacher requirements in the No Child Left Behind Act, specifically the section that mandates teachers have a degree or pass a rigorous test in each area they teach.

Part of this law says that science teachers who have one degree but teach multiple science subjects are not “highly qualified.” Mike takes the law to mean that her biology degree doesn’t qualify her to teach physical science, even though she has minors in physics and chemistry.

Mike said the law is unfair and holds teachers up to higher standards than many other professions.

“Realistically, the president of the United States should have a degree in law,” Mike said. “He doesn’t. Is he highly qualified?”

Mike, who has taught for 17 years, is not only the 2004 Montana Teacher of the Year, but also the 2002 winner of a presidential award for science teaching. Although President Bush signed that award, Mike pointed out that he now considers her “unqualified.”

The new federal law requires “highly qualified” teachers to be in every classroom by the 2005-2006 school year. That means teachers such as Mike, who teach multiple subjects in their field or who teach outside their field, will have to earn more degrees or restrict their teaching to their established subject.

The only way for teachers to get around the degree requirement is to demonstrate their competency by taking an as-yet undetermined test in each subject they teach. At Mike’s school in East Helena, only two teachers on the staff of 25 meet the standards required by the No Child Left Behind Act, Mike said.

She went on to say that the law is unnecessary, since good teachers need good teaching skills, not a pile of degrees.

“I think it’s important to have the content knowledge,” Mike said. “But being a teacher is a lot more than knowing your content.”

The spokesman for the state Office of Public Instruction said the federal requirements are not only unnecessary but are financially impossible for rural schools. Many school districts cannot afford to hire more science teachers, spokesman Joe Lamson said.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Linda McCulloch last month asked the federal government to let Montana continue licensing teachers as it always has, complete with a broad fields degree endorsement that gives teachers the broad knowledge they need to teach in all the sciences.

While many other states have asked for flexibility with No Child Left Behind, no state has heard back from Washington, Lamson said. Officials from the U.S. Department of Education did not return phone calls seeking comment this week.

The federal representatives coming to Montana later this year probably won’t be able to grant Montana exceptions to the federal law, but state officials are hoping they will see first-hand how the “one size fits all law” doesn’t work in Montana and other rural states.

“It’s easy to talk with people over the phone, but it’s a lot different when they’re here to talk with people,” Butler said.

— Allison Farrell
State’s top teacher not ‘highly qualified’ under No Child Act
Montana Standard


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