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NCLB Will Leave Teacher Aides Behind
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Law Could Leave Teacher's Aides Behind
Title I Schools Scramble to Deal With Required Retraining for Many Workers

By Elaine Rivera

Arlington School Superintendent Robert G. Smith doesn't want someone like Jackie Garcia, a bilingual teacher's aide at Randolph Elementary School, to leave.

So Smith is determined to help her and other aides meet the new federal requirements for their work. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, which was passed last year, they will need an associate's degree, more college credits or a passing grade on a state-certified test by the 2005-06 school year to retain their jobs. Smith's first step: He has set aside $153,000 from his budget next year to help retrain his paraprofessionals.

"We have to be in a position to do that or we put the cost on those people," Smith said, "and they are not our best-paid folks."

The law applies only to aides at schools that receive Title I money, which is federal funding established nearly 40 years ago to supplement the budgets of schools with concentrations of poor students. The rationale is that aides at Title I schools provide more instructional services, such as tutoring and the reviewing of homework, than do those in schools in more affluent areas, U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman Susan Aspey said.

The law affects about 10 percent of Smith's 477 teacher's aides and leaves him, like educators across the country, looking for ways to keep the aides in compliance. Educators also are wrestling with the larger question of how to avoid creating a two-tiered, inherently unequal system in which some aides must be better qualified than others to receive the same pay.

"These are arbitrary requirements," said Denise Cardinal, spokeswoman for the National Education Association, who pointed out that aides who don't meet the new standards might choose to apply at other schools or districts, leaving gaps in the schools that need them most.

The complications are both personal and bureaucratic.

Garcia, whose college degree from her native Bolivia isn't recognized in this country, works two jobs at her school and runs its Spanish club -- employment that pays her daughter's college tuition. Those commitments don't leave much time or money for returning to school.

"It's going to be another expense for me to take the extra classes," said Garcia, 41, who has worked in Arlington schools for three years and makes $12 an hour, "and I'm going to have to do many things to get what they want us to get."

Multiply Garcia's case many times and the scope of the challenge becomes clear.

Fairfax County, which has more than 1,800 teacher's aides, has a small proportion of Title I schools, but it will still have an undertaking as it figures out who needs retraining.

"We didn't keep track of the paraprofessional credentials -- they only needed a high school diploma" when they were hired, said Nancy Sprague, chief academic officer for Fairfax County schools. "There are many paraprofessionals with 20 years of experience, and all of a sudden they have to meet these new requirements . . . . We have to go to each one and get the records. It's a pain."

Montgomery County estimates that about 100 of its 2,500 aides need retraining. Alexandria doesn't have to do any retraining because it has no Title I schools.

School districts that do have Title I schools are in search of money to accomplish the retraining.

Although those districts can use Title I funds or other federal grant money, those sources of funding haven't been increased specifically to train aides. Smith has cobbled together money from his budget -- borrowing a little from this program and a little from that program -- and probably will use the funds to offer tuition reimbursement to aides and cover their costs of taking the state exam.

Fairfax is offering aides an online tutorial program, weekly class sessions, and summer courses for those who want to take the state tests -- the qualifying route most aides are expected to take because it is cheaper and less time-consuming than earning an associate's degree or 48 college credits.

Even the quicker route will present problems, school officials said. The test will require empirical knowledge of social studies, writing and math, as well as fields of study that may or may not relate to the aides' classroom duties.

Theresa Caldwell, coordinator of staff development instructional services in Fairfax, said some aides who provide instructional assistance may not be good at geometry or algebra. And many aides who work in English-as-a-second-language programs may not be strong enough in English to pass the test, even though they are very capable at giving instruction to ESL students, she said.

Paraprofessionals at Title I schools who do not teach -- whose duties may involve language translation for parents, clerical work or helping physically disabled students -- are exempt from retraining.

Paraprofessionals who aren't exempt are already feeling the time and financial pressures. Margie Graham, a Randolph Elementary aide with 20 years' experience, has three children and not much time to earn a degree or study for certification.

"I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to finish by 2006," she said.

— Elaine Rivera
Law Could Leave Teacher's Aides Behind
Washington Post
April 12, 2003


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