Congress approves weird definition of 'highly qualified’ teachers
Corrections: An earlier version of this incorrectly said an appellate court ruled a federal regulation on teachers "unconstitutional." Rather, it said the regulation was illegal because it did not fully meet a credential standard set in No Child Left Behind. Also the continuing resolution passed by Congress was not nearly 2,000 pages, as earlier stated.
So they’ve gone ahead and done it. U.S. legislators passed legislation that includes people in teacher training programs as "highly qualified” teachers.
Congress approved a “continuing resolution” that will fund the government until March.
It contained a provision to cover a $5.7 billion shortfall in the Pell Grant program, which provides money for low- and moderate-income students to pay for college tuition.
In a seemingly contradictory move, Congress also wrote into law a 2002 federal regulation that allows teachers still in training programs to be considered “highly qualified” under No Child Left Behind.
So Congress wants students who qualify for Pell grants to go to college, but it apparently doesn’t mind calling non-certified teachers who are still being trained "highly qualified." And because of this designation, school districts aren’t required to tell parents just how little training their child’s teacher has had.
In September, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declared the “highly qualified” regulation illegal because it did not fully meet a credential standard set in No Child Left Behind. But its supporters moved quickly to get Congress to not only save it.
Congress did, giving a gift to alternative teacher training programs such as Teach for America, which trains participants for five weeks before sending them into high-poverty schools.
Opponents of this definition of “highly qualified” note that these non-certified teachers are concentrated in high-poverty schools, serving children who actually need the best teachers with the experience to know how to handle their needs.
The office of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who is chairman of the Senate’s education committee, sent me an explanation of why he supported the move. It said:
“There is broad, bipartisan agreement among members of Congress and the Obama administration that it is the intent of Congress for alternative-route teachers to be considered highly qualified, consistent with the regulation that has been in place for several years. Chairman Harkin strongly believes that teacher quality is essential to student success, and intends to address this issue as part of a comprehensive ESEA reauthorization. While that process is underway, the 9th Circuit’s decision – which reverses a previous court ruling in favor of the regulation – could cause significant disruptions in schools across the country and have a negative impact on students. Maintaining current practice is a temporary solution, and underscores the need to act quickly and reauthorize ESEA early in the next Congress.”
But there are holes in that argument.
Here’s a response from the plaintiffs’ attorney in the Ninth Circuit case, John Affeldt, managing attorney at the non-profit civil rights law firm, Public Advocates in San Francisco:
“Senator Harkin’s statement fails to acknowledge that what the courts have called an illegal definition of a "highly qualified" teacher has never been part of the law, and was rejected by Senator Kennedy and Congressman Miller early on.
"To write what was an illegally expansive regulation into law will be a major change from the past. To permit a teacher who may have only just enrolled in preparation to be called "highly qualified" before they have met any training standards defies common sense. To visit those under-prepared teachers disproportionately on low-income students and students of color-and on special education students who are among those most often taught by under-prepared teachers--and then hide that fact from parents and the public--flies in the face of the equity, transparency and accountability that NCLB and our leaders apparently stand for.
"The fear of 'significant disruptions' in the teaching force has no basis, as the court case is currently being appealed and no classrooms will be affected during this school year.
"Furthermore, where there are needs, schools will continue to hire less-than-highly-qualified teachers, as is the case in several hundred thousand classrooms today. NCLB permits such teachers to continue to be employed as long as they fill shortage areas, are publicly disclosed and equitably distributed.
"If this were just about enacting a "temporary solution" to avoid short-term disruptions, the language would not seek to modify the highly qualified teacher definition for the next 2½ years. Instead, it has now become more important to maintain the status quo of using poor and minority schools as the training grounds for interns than enforcing teacher equity as NCLB called for and as parents are demanding. In fact, the real disruption is to the democratic process.
"Significantly modifying the standard of teacher quality owed every child in the nation is not something that should happen at the close of session, in the dead of night, behind closed doors in an appropriations bill, but where it is supposed to-in the light of day during the ESEA [Elementary and Secondary Education Act] reauthorization."
You can read a fuller piece by Affeldt on Huffington Post.
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| December 23, 2010; 5:00 AM ET
Categories: Congress, No Child Left Behind, Teachers | Tags: congress, continuing resolution, highly qualified teachers, teachers
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