Most States Pass Federal Review on Highly Qualified Teachers

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The vast majority of states are well on their way to plans that federal officials contend will soon put a qualified teacher at the head of every academic class, including ones in schools with poor records of student achievement.

In an Aug. 16 announcement, the U.S. Department of Education singled out nine states for having put forward particularly complete plans, according to a team of 31 outside experts organized by the department. Those states are Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina, and South Dakota.

Another four states, however, flunked the reviews. They are Hawaii, Missouri, Utah, and Wisconsin. While all but one or two states will need to revise their plans to take into account the comments of the expert reviewers, federal officials said those four must submit new plans, undergo close monitoring of the data they collect on teacher quality, and provide detailed monthly progress reports. The rewritten plans are due Sept. 29.

In the plans, which were due to the Education Department on July 7, states were required to describe which groups of teachers are not yet “highly qualified” according to the federal standard, how they will help–and if necessary prod—districts so that all their teachers meet the standard, and what steps they are taking to ensure that poor and minority children get their fair share of teaching talent.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 calls for all teachers of core subjects in virtually all public schools to have been qualified by the school year that just ended. In general, teachers are deemed “highly qualified” if they hold at least a standard license and show command of the subjects they teach.

This past fall, however, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings recognized that no state was likely to meet the highly qualified teacher requirement. As a result, she declared that states could avoid the punitive loss of federal funds for the 2006-07 school year if they showed good faith and progress in reaching for the goal. In reviews based on monitoring visits to each state, all but seven states were deemed to have complied with the good-faith effort. Three are on notice for failing to institute a test for new elementary teachers and four were cited for missing or inadequate data.

But all the states were given until the end of September to revise their plans for meeting the teacher-quality goal. And for the first time, the Education Department insisted that states address with a plan the No Child Left Behind law’s so-called teacher “equity provision.” That provision requires that poor and minority children not be taught in greater proportions than other children by teachers who are unqualified in their subjects or inexperienced.

Until recently, many states, caught up in the law’s testing mandates, have failed to grapple with that part of the law.

Federal officials seemed to take that into account last week, generally praising states for progress and even putting one state, New Mexico, in the approved category though it had not yet pulled together a plan for achieving equity.

“For the most part, states have worked very hard to address the issues they needed to address, and we are seeing some progress,” Henry L. Johnson, the Education Department’s assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, said in a conference call with reporters.

A Different Take

But the Education Trust, a Washington-based research organization that advocates for poor and minority students, had a different take.

In a report on the states’ latest teacher-quality plans released earlier this month and focused largely on the states’ efforts to achieve teacher-quality equity, the group’s researchers said the “overwhelming majority” of states should be required to start over “with clearer guidance and more assistance from the Department of Education to get this process moving in the right direction.”

The Education Trust faulted many states “for vague plans that lacked the data to properly target the strategies or evaluate their effectiveness” in ensuring that poor and minority students get qualified teachers no less than other students.

René Islas, who heads the Education Department’s teacher-quality effort, agreed but in a milder form.

“The biggest issue was that … states did not do a comprehensive data analysis to identify which highly qualified teachers are in which schools, so it’s difficult to develop the optimum strategies,” he said. “In other cases, they maybe were not bold enough with strategies targeted to effectively change local incentives for drawing teachers” into the schools that need them most.

Vol. 26

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