Federal

Ed. Dept. Won’t Force HOUSSE Closure Now

By Bess Keller — September 19, 2006 3 min read
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In the federal government’s give-and-take with states over improving the nation’s teaching corps, the latest move appears to be a give to the states.

Federal officials indicated earlier this month that they will relax their teacher-quality campaign a tad and allow states to give some veteran teachers a break in proving they are “highly qualified.”

At issue is the leeway states have had to get teachers to that standard even when they do not have a college major in some subject they teach or have not passed a test of it. Many veteran teachers have expressed distaste for those options and prefer alternate ways, called HOUSSE plans, which the states have devised under the law.

“The [Education] Department intends to pursue the further phaseout of HOUSSE procedures through the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act,” wrote Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings in a Sept. 5 letter to chief state schools officers. The reauthorization would happen at the earliest next year, and probably not then, presumably giving states more time to use their HOUSSE procedures.

Under the 4½-year-old federal law, to be deemed highly qualified, new teachers must show subject knowledge by passing a test or holding the equivalent of a major in any subjects they teach. But experienced teachers have the option of passing a “high, objective, uniform state standard of evaluation” or HOUSSE, that each state set up.

All but a single state came up with such a plan, according to the Education Commission of the States, a Denver-based clearinghouse and research center for state education officials. Many of the procedures allowed teachers to count their years of experience and training workshops toward a passing score, features that some observers said watered down the standard.

No Authority?

All teachers were supposed to be highly qualified by the end of the last school year, but with the states obviously behind schedule, the Education Department last year set a new deadline at the end of the current school year. In exchange, it has required the states to craft plans for how they intend to comply with the “highly qualified” provision of the law.

Reprieve Granted

In a letter to state schools chiefs, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings backs away from forcing states to get rid of the “high, objective, uniform state standard of evaluation” option for veteran teachers.

“Given that most states are committed to limiting or eliminating the use of HOUSSE procedures, the department intends to pursue the further phaseout of HOUSSE procedures through the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). In the interim, the department will focus on the very important requirement in the Title I statute of ensuring that ‘poor and minority’ children have the same access to highly qualified teachers as all other children.”

Read more from the Sept. 5 letter Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings sent to state school chiefs.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education

As part of that process, officials told the states in May that they must explain how they would eliminate the use of their HOUSSE options except in three situations: secondary teachers teaching multiple subjects in specified rural districts who were highly qualified at the time of hire; special education teachers teaching multiple subjects who were highly qualified in English, mathematics, or science at the time of hire; and foreign teachers in the United States for a limited time.

Many states viewed the limitations as a hardship in reaching the 100 percent goal, in part because with numerous HOUSSE plans not final until a year or two ago, even teachers who rightly believed they could use the option have not necessarily completed the process.

Both the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, argued, moreover, that the law did not give the Education Department the authority to force elimination of the HOUSSE options.

Apparently in response, Ms. Spellings backed off. Department of Education officials did not respond last week to a request for comment.

Ms. Spellings noted in her letter that even without further action by the department, “most states are committed to limiting or eliminating the use of HOUSSE procedures.”

In the teacher-quality plans the states submitted this summer, 22 entirely met the department’s goals for eliminating the HOUSSE procedures, 14 partially met them, and 16 did not meet them, according to ECS tabulations.

‘Reasonable Judgment’

But even when states were deemed to have met the requirement, some seemed far from eager to get rid of their HOUSSE options. Maryland, for instance, plans to phase out its plan only by 2013-14. And Connecticut warned that “the phaseout … for use with veteran teachers will exacerbate shortage areas, especially in special education.”

Some states are especially concerned about not being able to use the plans for teachers who are reassigned to a different subject, an area that Ms. Spellings says is also a concern of hers. She cautioned against using “nonrigorous HOUSSE procedures to quickly demonstrate … competency.”

“States completely agree we’re talking about exceptions and not the rule,” said Scott Palmer, a lawyer with the Washington firm of Holland & Knight who is a consultant to the state school chiefs’ group. “But there’s a realm of reasonable education judgment.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 20, 2006 edition of Education Week as Ed. Dept. Won’t Force HOUSSE Closure Now

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