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National Teacher of the Year Asked to Prove She's Qualified

MONTPELIER - She was the Vermont teacher of the Year and National Teacher of the Year in 2001, and is a highly regarded history teacher at Middlebury Union High School.

But the nation's former top teacher has been given an "incomplete" by the No Child Left Behind Act.

Michelle Forman was recently among about 3,000 teachers asked to submit copies of their credentials to the state as part of the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

"It is wasteful, excessive and an impediment to the work we do,'' the Middlebury Union High School history teacher said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. "I'm all for a law that encourages meaningful accreditation, but this is not it."

She said the letter was an annoyance which she quickly responded to by submitting a copy of her national certification. But she had harsher words for the intent of the law that triggered the letter.

Forman, whose teaching skills were praised by President Bush during a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, said the federal law is a misguided attempt to impose a one-size-fits-all approach to improving student performance and teacher quality.

"I challenge anyone to tell me how this will improve in any noticeable way the caliber of teaching or the way students learn. I am angry and disappointed about it,'' said Forman, who has taught in Middlebury for 18 years and has also been a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal.

The No Child Left Behind Act, which Congress passed at President Bush's request, requires teachers to demonstrate "sufficient content knowledge" in the subjects they teach to be considered "highly qualified" under the education law. Next year, schools will release lists of teachers who are highly qualified and those who are not.

To satisfy the requirement teachers must provide the state Department of Education with information about their educational background and other professional training they may have received.

Education Commissioner Richard Cate said the recent letters were not an attempt to single out any teachers, just an attempt to gather data required by the new law.

"Our computer system did not have data for some teachers who have been teaching a long time. These letters will hopefully get us the information," Cate said.

Forman, who once worked for the department as a teacher trainer, said the state agency is perennially underfunded, overworked and understaffed and the No Child Left Behind Act will only make its job harder.

She added that the law does not recognize the differences in educational achievements and conditions in different states.

"It's ironic that Republicans, who advocate local control, put this through," said Forman.

Though the measure was passed with Democratic and Republican votes, it has since become quite controversial in view of the complaints of teachers and school officials about the costs of the regulations. Several of the Democratic presidential candidates regularly criticize it in their speeches.

Former Gov. Howard Dean calls it the "no schoolboard left standing act.'' All four of the Democratic presidential candidates who are members of Congress voted for the measure. However, they have all criticized the Bush administration for not fully funding it.

Contact Claude R. Marx at claude.marx@timesargus.com

— Claude R. Marx
Vermont's 'best' teacher doesn't make the grade
Times Argus


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