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States Rate Poorly on Ensuring Veteran Teachers Are Qualified

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States may be demanding high standards of their newly certified teachers, but they’re doing a poor job of requiring their veteran teachers to get the training necessary to meet the “highly qualified” provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, according to a new assessment of states’ progress.

While there are a few exceptions, many states are either exempting veteran teachers from any coursework or asking them only to complete activities that have little connection to knowledge of the subjects they teach, according to the study, released last week by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based organization.

“Most states neither share the urgency nor the single-minded focus of the U.S. Congress in seeking to address the low academic standards required of American teachers, arguably the least rigorous among all developed nations,” the report says, adding that many states don’t have the “political stomach for remedying the impact of substandard, expired certification regulations.”

The report, which follows the group’s first study released last spring, grades states’ plans for addressing the HOUSSE, or “high objective uniform state standard of evaluation,” provision of the federal law.

Five states, the study finds, require all teachers, regardless of how long they’ve been teaching, to have at least a college minor in the subject they teach.

Thirty states offer teachers a menu, allowing them to acquire points for professional development activities or serving on a committee. In fact, the report’s title, “Searching the Attic,” is drawn from the image of teachers “rummaging” through old papers looking for evidence that they participated in some qualifying activity in the past.

Colorado received an A+ for being the only state to require all teachers to either pass a test in the subject they teach or take the number of courses close to earning a major.

But the authors don’t place all the responsibility on the states for the disappointing performance. Congress, the report says, should “revisit the structure of the highly qualified teacher provision.” And the U.S. Department of Education, they recommend, should be clear that a major is no less than 30 credit hours, and a minor no less than 15.

With the deadline for states having “highly qualified” teachers only a year away, the council’s report is just the latest to weigh in on that controversial aspect of the law.

Tom Carroll, the president of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, a nonprofit group working to improve teacher preparation and the profession, said that the report suggests that states and the Congress might be missing a prime opportunity to improve the quality of the teaching workforce. But he added that too many questions remain about how poorly prepared teachers are distributed at the school level.

There is still too much emphasis placed on the “inputs” of teacher quality, such as certification and testing, he said. With progress being made in the area of “value-added” research, he noted, there should be more efforts to evaluate veteran teachers’ actual performance.

“We should be going beyond certification and testing,” he said. “We should be able to look at how effective teachers are in the classroom.”

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