Illinois Board Adjusts Teacher Certification to Meet Federal Rules
Illinois education officials have approved a new set of rules that all teachers must meet, and which the state hopes will bring it into line with new federal mandates aimed at raising teacher quality.
Among the biggest impacts from the state board of education's action on Sept. 19 could be a decrease in the state's use of foreign-trained bilingual teachers and greater difficulty in filling substitute-teacher slots in the 432,000- student Chicago schools.
Many other questions remain, though, about how Illinois school districts, which face growing shortages of teachers, will staff their classrooms with "highly qualified" teachers under the terms of the federal "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001.
Currently, some 25,000 out of about 130,000 teachers in the state are teaching without full credentials, or teaching in subject areas for which they are not certified, according to state estimates.
"[The districts] that are going to have a tough time are those serving the students with the greatest needs, and have been serving them poorly for years," said James F. Dougherty, the president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, an 85,000-member affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.
The state adjusted its teaching regulations to comply with the new law, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
As stipulated in the federal law, all Illinois Title I teachers hired beginning this school year must be fully certified. By the end of the 2005-06 school year, all teachers in core academic subjects will be required to hold credentials in the subjects they are teaching.
The state's new rules, which follow the same time frames, will "bring in more teachers who have some kind of outside-the-mainstream certificate into the mainstream," said Kim Knauer, a spokeswoman for the state department of education. The regulations will reinforce beliefs that teachers should not be working in fields or grades that they are not certified to teach, she added.
Officials in Chicago are studying the implications of the new rules for their district.
The new requirements will dictate that "Type 39" teachers, or those who are full-time substitutes in Chicago, must be fully certified and teaching only in the classes for which they have certification. Previously, substitutes in Chicago were required only to have bachelor's degrees.
Chicago has been an exception to state law, which has limited substitute teachers elsewhere in the state to no more than 90 days' teaching in each classroom, said Ms. Knauer.
Furthermore, the state is cracking down on bilingual educators who hold a "transitional bilingual certificate," which is given to individuals who pass language-proficiency exams and hold the equivalent of a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university.
Many of those instructors were prepared as teachers in their native countries, but often do not meet state certification requirements.
Also, the state will count teachers who hold alternative teaching certificates and have passed state content-area and basic-skills exams as meeting the "highly qualified" definition.
Teachers who hold certification in other states and who hold provisional certificates in Illinois still must pass the state exams and meet any other requirements before they can be considered highly qualified, according to the board's rules.
Mr. Dougherty of the teachers' union said he objects to the term "highly qualified." He said that, instead, the teachers who comply with the state's new regulations should be called "minimally qualified."
"Just because they have basic certification does not make them highly qualified; it takes a great deal more than that," he said.
Assistant Managing Editor Robert C. Johnston contributed to this report.
Vol. 22, Issue 5, Page 20