‘Adjunct Teachers’ Could Do End Run Around NCLB Act

By Vaishali Honawar — February 28, 2006 | Corrected: February 22, 2019 9 min read
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Corrected: This story gave a partially incorrect title for the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future.

A White House proposal to bring math, science, and engineering professionals into public high schools to teach those subjects could bypass the “highly qualified” teacher mandate under the No Child Left Behind Act, while only temporarily easing the shortfall of mathematics and science teachers, education observers say.

President Bush’s fiscal 2007 budget seeks $25 million for the Adjunct Teacher Corps, as the initiative is being called. It would encourage 30,000 experienced professionals by 2015 to become adjunct teachers and “provide real-world applications for some of the abstract mathematical concepts being taught in the classroom.” Such teachers, the thinking goes, would provide instruction in high-need schools on a relatively short-term basis.

The adjunct-teacher proposal is part of a broader plan to upgrade mathematics and science teaching in the United States.

Mr. Bush, who announced the plan in his State of the Union Address in January, said the adjunct teachers would offer “early help to students who struggle with math, so they have a better chance at good, high-wage jobs” in a competitive international market.

Those individuals, though, could bump up against the 4-year-old federal education law, which requires that all new teachers of core subjects have a standard license from the state and demonstrate knowledge of the subject matter. They can meet the latter requirement by passing a test in the subject they intend to teach or by earning a college major in it.

Meanwhile, the budget description of the adjunct-teacher program says that “instead of the usual focus on certification or licensure of such individuals, the initiative would concentrate on helping schools find experienced professionals.”

Tom Mooney, the president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, said he is not surprised that the Bush administration is trying to circumvent the very requirements that it set. He cited a provision in the NCLB law that allows charter schools to hire unlicensed teachers unless state law requires that they be certified.

Mr. Mooney said adequate preparation is critical to teacher effectiveness. And although he does not idealize traditional teacher-training programs, he said, skirting the law would be a shame because requiring teachers to be highly qualified, “as a general policy, is a good thing—one of the few useful things about NCLB.”

Others, though, say that eliminating the requirement would help bring into the teaching fold those who would otherwise be reluctant.

“We know a 55-year-old IBM retiree would not want to teach if they had to go through a year of training” for certification, said Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, who served under President Reagan.

The adjunct-teacher plan could help solve a problem that would not have existed had there not been “stupid entry barriers and a stupid compensation system” that makes teaching unattractive to math and science graduates, Mr. Finn argued.

Few Details

Details of the proposal are in short supply at present.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education said last week that it was too early to discuss further details. The spokesman, Chad Colby, said the department will work with Congress on specifics over the coming months. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and other senior officials were planning to testify before Congress this week, he added, noting that discussion of the adjunct-teacher program “may or may not come up during those hearings.”

Steve Forde, a spokesman for the Republican majority on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said he expected the committee to work on that and other budget proposals over the spring. There is “nothing on the horizon in the very near future,” he added.

What little is known comes from the president’s budget proposal, which covers the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Money for the program would be disbursed in the form of competitive grants to partnerships of school districts with states or public and private institutions. The kind of institutions has not been defined.

Adjunct teachers, according to the proposal, might teach one or more courses at a school on a part-time basis, teach full time in secondary schools while on leave from their jobs, or teach courses that would be available online or through other distance-learning arrangements.

Without more information, said Antonia Cortese, an executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, predicting how the plan might work is difficult.

“Their concern is getting more math and science teachers into high schools,” she said, referring to the administration, “but our concern is that it really sidesteps the bigger problem that we need to be training more math and science teachers and offering them more incentives.”

Moreover, she said, it remains to be seen if professionals would be willing to teach in rural and inner-city schools, where the shortage of math and science teachers is particularly felt.

The public-private partnerships that the Bush administration wants to see established for the adjunct-teacher program could place such teachers outside the public school system and therefore, potentially, outside the realm of collective bargaining laws.

Addressing that issue is “too far down the road” for the AFT to consider now, Ms. Cortese said.

But Mr. Mooney of the AFT’s Ohio affiliate accused the administration of trying to undermine unions.

“There is always a hidden agenda to privatize teaching. … They want to break all unions and want everyone who works for a living to be poor,” Mr. Mooney maintained.

Still, he questioned how many professionals would choose to join the adjunct corps, given what he cited as low pay and poor teaching conditions in many places. “We need to fix those things first,” Mr. Mooney said.

Teacher Training

President Bush’s announcement came as a concern about shortages of math and science teachers has been pushed front and center by recent discussions on how American students are falling short in international competition.

A panel convened by the National Academies, a congressionally chartered advisory organization, issued a report last fall saying the United States stands to lose its economic, scientific, and technological edge over the rest of the world. To help reverse the situation, it called for $10 billion a year in federal initiatives, many of them targeting K-12 schooling.

The Bush plan seeks to address some of those issues with such measures as training 70,000 new math and science teachers for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses and establishing the adjunct corps. (“Bush Proposes Math and Science Initiatives,” Feb. 8, 2006.)

But many experts on teaching differ with the administration’s view that pedagogical training is less important than subject-matter knowledge. They point out that while an individual may be extremely knowledgeable about a particular subject, he or she may still not be able to impart that knowledge to children.

“The evidence is clear and compelling that while teachers need to know the subjects that they teach, they also need to know how to teach them,” said Barnett Berry, the president of the Center for Teaching Quality in Chapel Hill, N.C. Those who oppose teacher certification, he contended, do so because “a better-prepared teacher is in the long run more expensive.”

Already, Mr. Berry said, several alternative models exist that provide opportunities for people to go into teaching without going through a traditional, college-based program.

Others ask why the federal government is trying to burrow deeper into matters that they believe should essentially be left up to local decisionmaking.

Mary Kusler, the assistant director of government relations for the American Association of School Administrators, in Arlington, Va., said school districts should be making decisions on such programs, tailored to their own needs. Making such decisions at the federal level, she said, could make it “really hard to succeed.”

Other issues are also likely to arise. Tom Carroll, the president of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, a Washington-based group that advocates putting competent and qualified teachers in every classroom, said that teachers might feel threatened by professionals from the math and science industries who may have more expertise.

“It is going to be very important … to create a supportive environment that would foster mutual respect between the professionals and teachers,” he said.

Potential Benefits

Handled correctly, however, the program could offer great benefits, some observers suggest.

Kate Walsh, the president of the Washington-based National Council on Teaching Quality, which advocates changes in teacher policies, said she could see a vast market and fruitful partnerships with businesses to help implement the program.

She pointed, for instance, to the IBM Corp., which last year announced a pilot program offering support to employees who want to get certified to teach math and science. The company will reimburse 100 participants in the pilot up to $15,000 for tuition and stipends; they can remain on staff at the computer company while completing the coursework. It could not be determined last week how many employees have taken IBM up on its offer.

“There is wide recognition in corporate America that we are not meeting the math and science needs of our schools, and [the adjunct-teacher program] is one avenue that can help alleviate that problem,” Ms. Walsh said.

Graduate students, she said, could also be a “huge untapped market.”

Mr. Carroll can also see potential merit in the plan. “Our competitors are racing ahead of us in math and science,” he said, and teachers need reinforcements to meet the challenge.

“If it is done right,” he said, “the Adjunct Teacher Corps could enrich and strengthen our schools.”

But in the long run, experts on the teacher profession agree, the acute shortage of math and science teachers can only be resolved by increasing the flow of well-trained teachers into the pipeline.

“This cannot be treated simply as a way to replace teachers,” Mr. Carroll said.

Sharon Robinson, the president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, based in Washington, said that while the program could bring much-needed help to schools, “we have to understand that this is not a solution to the real problem.”

“When the businesses go back to doing their business, they are not going to have time for teaching,” she said.

Instead, said Ms. Robinson, an assistant education secretary in the Clinton administration, the need is great to bring highly qualified teachers into schools that teach low-income children and those who speak English as a second language.

“Those are the schools that have the revolving-door teacher problem,” she said, warning that programs like the adjunct corps could add to “the sense of churn and unpredictability.”

A version of this article appeared in the March 01, 2006 edition of Education Week as ‘Adjunct Teachers’ Could Do End Run Around NCLB Act


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