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NCLB Outrages

Education Law Penalizes Good Teachers

Ohanian Comment: Note the way the NCLB law on "qualified teachers" deliberately undercuts courses offered by colleges of education. Why aren't they in an uproar over this?

I think your readers would like to know more about the story behind the headlines. We have heard much about the "No Child Left Behind" Act passed under President Bush's administration. Recently there was an article in local newspapers stating that 3,000 of Vermont's 8,000 teachers were getting letters saying something was amiss: There was some question about their being listed as highly qualified teachers by the standards set under this act.

What does that mean? Are our teachers really so poorly qualified to teach? Certainly the parents of their students will think so. Next fall each parent will get a letter stating that these teachers were not highly qualified by federal standards. After another year or so, these teachers cannot even be rehired under federal law unless they can comply with these new federal mandates.

Much to our surprise and chagrin, I and many of my fellow teachers received such a letter.

How could this be? I graduated with honors from Stanford, a prestigious university, obtained a master's from the highly touted Bank Street College of Education, accumulated over 45 graduate credits beyond my master's during the summers, and taught almost 30 years. My fellow teachers were in similar situations.

In my case, the letter stated, my undergraduate transcript was missing! Until I sent it in, it would be unclear to them whether I had had the right number of 30-year-old undergraduate credits in math, science, history, and English to qualify as a good elementary teacher. When I was hired, the state of Vermont was not even asking for transcripts: just the district where we were hired!

I asked someone who had worked on the letters, what about all those math trainings, UVM math teaching classes, and even math scoring I had done? What about my master's degree from Bank Street College - a whole year of learning the latest in teaching, including math? Wouldn't these take care of the math?

"Oh, no," she said. "Nothing counts that is teacher training or teaching methods. It must be listed as a math class under the math department."

Why should I have taken math in college? Nothing below calculus was offered, and calculus is not exactly necessary for teaching elementary school.

I went down to the superintendent's office to Xerox my undergraduate transcript and count the credits. Oh, there was a statistics course here and an economics course there, I found.

I think I will squeak by. But what about others who went to teacher-training colleges and never took a subject that was not grounded in teaching methodology, courses that won't count? What about the high school teachers who are teaching several subjects (like chemistry, biology and physics) and don't have a major in each one? What does it feel like to have a lifetime of work questioned and undervalued at the end of one's career?

And what happened to the idea of local control? The state and local licensing bureau's recommendations are being ignored. Vermont has worked very hard to have a rigorous system of relicensure for each teacher every seven years. Under this system, teachers are actually permitted to take classes on teaching! No matter the level of our skills, we are asked to take three new graduate-level courses or their equivalent each time we are relicensed. We have some of the best math, reading and writing training available in the country.

Our schools are highly respected nationally. Why should we have some federal law, "No Child Left Behind" Act, set up poor standards that waste enormous amounts of time and portray our teachers as unqualified? This is the same law that is forcing states to teach to tests, that threatens to close our schools and tuition students to private schools with our tax dollars. It does not make sense.

Rachel Cogbill lives in Plainfield.

— Rachel Cogbill
Times Argus


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