NCLB Calls Veteran Teachers Unqualified
Until the beginning of this school year, Mary Steinhauer taught remedial math to 9th and 10th graders at Riverside High School.
A 25-year veteran, Steinhauer has a bachelor's degree in elementary education with concentrations in reading, math and science.
But because she is certified to teach only elementary and middle school students, Steinhauer - under the federal No Child Left Behind law - could no longer instruct the remedial high school classes she taught for at least two decades.
"The students were really upset," Steinhauer said. "It's just horrendous to be told you are not qualified and that you have to prove you are qualified even though you've been certified for years."
Steinhauer's district chose to resolve the question of unqualified teachers immediately: She was removed from her class and reassigned to the middle school.
For many other districts in the state, though, letters were sent this month by districts to parents whose children have teachers deemed not qualified, as required by the No Child Left Behind Act.
The law aims to have a "highly qualified teacher" in every classroom by June 2006.
In Pennsauken, about 500 letters - regarding 11 teachers - were sent to parents with children in grades five through eight, interim Superintendent James Chapman said. No teachers in prekindergarten through fourth grade were flagged.
"We are not eager to do it, but we have to," Chapman said. "I don't think anyone who is certified looks kindly on parents receiving a letter that says they are not. But in some cases, they do not meet this requirement."
Under the federal law, all teachers must pass a state-issued test. In addition to the test, middle and high school teachers must be qualified in the subjects they teach, which they can accomplish by majoring in those subjects as undergraduates or by taking 30 credits toward a major, a graduate degree, or an advanced credential, such as a national board certification.
States also may set up a high objective uniform state evaluation (HOUSE) standard, which is an alternative method for veteran teachers - those who have been in their schools for more than a year - to show they meet the requirement to be highly qualified.
"Many of our teachers met the requirements using the HOUSE standards," said Eileen McAllister, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Burlington Township schools, which employ nearly 300 teachers. "Also, we've been very aggressive over the years to hire teachers with specific subject certification."
In some districts, veteran teachers are feeling pinched by the new regulations. Joyce Stumpo, superintendent of Gateway Regional in Woodbury Heights - where six teachers were flagged - pointed out that the process hits veteran teachers harder than newer teachers who generally have more training in a variety of disciplines.
Under the law, most teachers must meet the standards by June 2006. However, novices and new hires in Title I schools - those that received federal funding for programs - had to have met the standard by September.
In Steinhauer's case, she had been teaching freshman and sophomore remedial math before the law was enacted. She was replaced with another teacher - one Steinhauer had mentored - because in high school the courses counted for credit.
Only teachers certified to instruct high school math could teach for-credit courses, Steinhauer said. She now teaches math on the middle school level, an area where she is deemed highly qualified.
Steve Baker, spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, the largest teachers' union in the state, said Steinhauer's feelings are common throughout the membership.
"We support high standards for the profession," Baker said. "It's good for education. But these letters are inflammatory. Everybody is concerned when you have a situation where the federal government changed the rules in the middle of the game. They didn't give teachers enough time to be in compliance, and then before they get a chance to get in compliance, the letter trumpets the fact" that they are not.
Although the union, made up of teachers and support staff, does not know how many teachers were affected or how many letters went to parents statewide, Baker said the union anticipates that special education, elementary and middle school teachers will be affected most.
Gateway Regional's Stumpo said she sent letters to the parents of 97 students of six teachers, all of them special education teachers.
Stumpo said special education teachers are at a disadvantage because, under the federal act, a teacher must be highly qualified in every subject taught, but special education teachers teach multiple subjects and, for example, might be qualified to teach only two of four subjects.
In Cherry Hill, administrators are welcoming the chance to send out letters to their Title I school parents because every teacher is considered highly qualified. So every parent in Title I schools will receive a letter saying just that.
"It's an opportunity to brag a little bit," said Susan Bastnagel, spokeswoman for the district. "We're so glad this is the letter we're sending out."
Bastnagel said the district had spent a great deal of time checking and rechecking to make sure teachers met all requirements.
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