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NCLB Outrages

Schools unravel No Child rules for instructors

Under NCLB, Indiana teachers of 30 years experience are no longer highly qualified.


by Michael Wanbaugh

The vernacular of 2001's No Child Left Behind Act is loaded with buzz phrases that have thrust themselves into modern education's everyday vocabulary.

"Adequate yearly progress." "School in need of improvement." "Scientifically based research."

Among the law's more prominent alphabet-soup terminology is "highly qualified teacher." Educators throughout Indiana have scurried in recent months to decipher the meaning of HQT and make sure they fit into its definition.

"It hasn't exactly been easy, I'll tell you that," said Peter O'Rourke, superintendent of Argos Community Schools in rural Marshall County. "The only thing that really bothered us was just figuring out what to do. It was time consuming. There was a lot of running around."

As mandated by No Child Left Behind, school corporations or districts throughout the country must prove each of their teachers is highly qualified in the core academic subjects they teach. Those include English, language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, social studies and fine arts.

To be considered as highly qualified, teachers must hold at least a bachelor's degree, have valid state certification and prove they know each subject they teach. The latter can be done either through college degrees/majors, professional development or a combination of accrued service.

The U.S. Department of Education has left it up to each state to measure its own teachers.

While Indiana school corporations were required to turn in highly qualified teacher information for all of their teachers by Oct. 31, the state has not yet released either the overall or individual school/corporation percentage of highly qualified teachers.

Kristen Schunk of the Indiana Department of Education's division of exceptional learners said the state is in the process of determining those percentages.

A complexity in the process is that state certification and the criteria for a highly qualified teacher don't necessarily mesh.

"You can be properly licensed by the state," Schunk explained, "and still not be considered highly qualified."

This is creating a staffing bind for some corporations, specifically in special education and self-contained seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms.

In the South Bend Community School Corp., for instance, there are teachers at the intermediate level who teach multiple core subjects to self-contained classes in seventh and eighth grades. Some of them teach a reading, English and social studies block. Others teach a math and science block.

State certification for most of those block teachers is for the elementary level.

Corporation officials have maintained that the self-contained nature of those intermediate classes allows for elementary licensed teachers.

Representatives of the National Education Association-South Bend, the local teachers union, have doubted the practice. They consider it a very gray area when the state has gone exclusively to secondary licenses for seventh- and eighth-grade teachers.

A secondary license is considered departmentalized. It tethers teachers to a specific core subject or subjects, depending on their qualifications.

The criteria for a highly qualified teacher in those grades follow the same path.

"Anything past sixth grade," Schunk said, "you have to be highly qualified in each core academic subject."

If that isn't the case, a plan must be developed between the corporation and the non-highly qualified teacher to become licensed in each core subject he or she teaches. For some elementary-licensed teachers teaching in intermediate schools, that could mean taking as many as 24 additional college credits (the equivalent of a major) in each subject taught.

Karyle Green, assistant superintendent of human resources for South Bend schools, has been gathering the corporation's highly qualified teacher information. Like O'Rourke at Argos, she's had to learn much of it on the run.

She realizes the corporation's intermediate staffing models are vulnerable.

"It will be problematic for the intermediate models and that has been pointed out to us on a number of occasions," Green said. "But, our belief is we have to try and do instructionally what's best for the students."

Emergency, one-year licenses are a temporary solution for teachers teaching outside their subject area. Still, they must establish a compliance plan and show annual progress toward becoming highly qualified.

Carolyn Peterson, president of the NEA-South Bend, said a number of teachers, some with as many as 30 years of experience, have had to apply for emergency licenses.

"This may mean (the corporation) has to switch from the (intermediate staffing) models," Peterson said. "Or they modify it somehow to keep them."

It's too early to determine which, if either, tack will be applied.

It's also not entirely clear how not having a highly qualified teacher in each classroom will affect a corporation.

"Right now it's not punitive," Schunk said. "After (No Child Left Behind) is re-authorized (next year), who knows? But right now it's not punitive. They're just trying to get them there."

In Title I schools -- schools that are allocated federal money -- if a teacher is not highly qualified, that school must send a letter to parents acknowledging their children are being taught by a non-highly qualified teacher, as deemed by No Child Left Behind.

Green isn't convinced that is the only consequence.

Some federal grant applications now require corporations to include the percentage of highly qualified teachers.

"It may not be punitive to the teacher, but we don't know what it's going to do to the corporation," she said. "You can say it's not punitive, but why are they asking it on a grant application? Do they have a cutoff that if you don't have this many highly qualified teachers you don't get any grant money?

"We just don't know."

— Michael Wanbaugh
South Bend Tribune


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