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In Every Core Class, A Qualified Teacher. . .

By Bess Keller — August 29, 2006 8 min read
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A year from now, every academic class must be headed by what is considered to be a “highly qualified” teacher. Federal officials say the vast majority of states are well on their way to that goal. Others, however, are skeptical the resources are there.

Only two weeks ago, U.S. Department of Education officials said all but four states could address shortcomings in their teacher-quality plans with revisions that would be due by the end of September. They singled out nine states for having plans that were complete and specific, and in need of few changes.

Passing Marks

The vast majority of states passed the U.S. Department of Education’s review of their plans for putting a highly qualified teacher in every core class, though few satisfied all the requirements the department had outlined.

*Click image to see the full chart.

Click to enlarge: PASSING MARKS

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education

***************************

The Teacher Gap

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, states must report the percentage of core classes taught by highly qualified teachers in poor and more well-to-do schools. Some states may appear to have less of a gap than others because their numbers are inaccurate or their teacher standards are lower.

*Click image to see the full chart.

Click to enlarge: THE TEACHER GAP

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education

“We’re seeing some progress and want to make sure each of the states has a fully approvable plan in the near future,” said Henry L. Johnson, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education.

But the Education Trust, which advocates for poor and minority students, says most states still have a long way to go, especially to give children in troubled schools a fair shake.

“A very clear portrait emerges,” said Ross Wiener, the group’s policy director. “States really have not seized this opportunity to acknowledge inequity or make strong plans.”

And Barnett Berry, the president of the Center for Teaching Quality, in Hillsborough, N.C., which has worked with several states on teacher quality, argues that the problem needs addressing on the scale of the post-World War II Marshall Plan for rebuilding Europe. He points to “woeful and insufficient resources for many districts” to attract and keep good teachers.

In the plans, which were due to the department July 7, states were required to describe which groups of teachers were not yet highly qualified according to the federal standard, how they would help—and prod—districts to use only such teachers, and what steps they were taking to ensure an equitable share of such teachers for poor and minority children.Outside experts organized by the Education Department reviewed the plans.

The reviewers found that Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina, and South Dakota had fully “acceptable” plans.

Four states flunked the reviews: Hawaii, Missouri, Utah, and Wisconsin. By November, they must come up with comprehensive plans under “strict scrutiny” from the department. For instance, federal officials promised to audit their data on teacher quality.

The No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law in January 2002, calls for all teachers of core subjects in virtually all public schools to have met the qualified standard 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.

See Also

Last fall, however, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings recognized that no state was likely to meet the 100 percent goal. 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—Idaho, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Virginia, and Washington, along with the District of Columbia—were found to have complied with the good-faith effort. Three of them are on notice for failing to institute a test for new elementary teachers, and four were cited for missing or inadequate data.

All states were then given until July 7 to submit detailed plans for meeting the 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 inexperienced teachers or those who are unqualified in their subjects.

Extending Time

Federal officials have given a couple of reprieves within the teaching ranks in the short history of the No Child Left Behind Act.

    2001
  • Congress passes NCLB law that includes provision requiring all core courses be taught by highly qualified teachers by June 2005 and all paraprofessionals be qualified by January 2005.
    2002
  • President Bush signs law. Education Department requires all states to submit teacher quality plans as part of their applications for NCLB funds.

2003

  • States provide first teacher quality data.
    • June 2005
    • Department makes deadline for paraprofessionals the same as for teachers—June 2006.
      October 2005
    • Department notifies states they will not face penalties if they fail to meet the teacher-quality goal provided they are making a good-faith effort and have demonstrated progress.
      March 2006
    • Department says it will evaluate each state’s “highly qualified teacher” plan with the possibility that plans will have to be revised and penalties may be imposed.
      June 2006
    • Nine states are penalized for inadequate plans or progress; all are required to revise their plans.
      July 2006
    • States submit revised plans.

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      SOURCES: Education Week; U.S. Department of Education

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      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 reality into account, even allowing New Mexico to get the “acceptable” stamp though it had not yet pulled together a plan for achieving equity.

      States suggested an array of programs for producing more teachers in high-poverty neighborhoods or subjects, for supporting teachers so they go or stay where they are needed most, and for helping districts make the most of state recruiting aids and hiring incentives.

      Nevada, one of the nine states with plans rated fully acceptable, was cited for providing a credit toward earlier retirement to teachers at “at risk” schools and for giving principals of such schools in Clark County the first pick of teaching talent. Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, has 70 percent of the state’s teachers and the vast majority of its low-performing schools.

      “The retirement credit is costing us $2,500 a year,” said state schools Superintendent Keith Rheault. “If we could double that and turn it into a cash bonus, we could get to [achieving] our equity plan a lot faster.” State education officials plan to ask the legislature for the money to increase the incentives.

      Maryland’s plan, also deemed acceptable, highlights a state law that lures retired teachers back to the classroom by allowing them full pay with no reduction in their pensions—but only if they work in a high-poverty school and a teaching field with a “critical shortage,” such as math.

      Still, many of the plans do not do enough to identify or target the schools, districts, and subjects that have the fewest qualified teachers, especially where the shortages disproportionately affect poor or minority children, the federal reviewers said. Those same points were made even more sharply in an independent review of the states’ plans by the Education Trust.

      The group took almost all states to task for failing to supply the basic data needed to document what it said was the unfair distribution of qualified and experienced teachers. Just 10 states went beyond data previously collected and looked at whether minority students were shortchanged, according to its report. Only Nevada, New York, Ohio, and Tennessee, it points out, analyzed the link between poor students and inexperienced teachers.

      Shrinking the Gap

      The Council of Chief State School Officers outlines ways to get high-caliber teachers to poor and minority students.

      Two Goals:

      • Increase the relative attractiveness of hard-to-staff schools so they can compete for their fair share of good teachers.

      • Make these schools personally and professionally rewarding places to work.

      • + Strategies that are MOST LIKELY to close the teacher-quality gap: • Reward teachers for taking on more challenging assignments.

        • Provide the specialized preparation and training teachers need to be successful in challenging classrooms.

        • Improve working conditions that contribute to high teacher turnover.

        • Revise state policies or improve internal processes that may inadvertently contribute to local staffing inequities.

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      • + Strategies that are NOT LIKELY to close the teacher-quality gap:•Involuntary transfers.

        • Simply producing more teachers.

        • Raising all teachers’ pay (with conditions not changed).

        • Purely compensatory measures to make up for bad working conditions, lack of resources, and poor leadership.

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      SOURCE: Council of Chief State School Officers.

      Overall, the Washington-based Education Trust researchers contended, the states’ documents were “sprinkled with vague plans that lacked the data to properly target the strategies or evaluate their effectiveness.” The group called on the Education Department to make most states start over on their plans, an option the department clearly rejected.

      The Education Trust recommended that the department provide states more help and guidance under the direction of a “high-profile officer” for teacher quality who would report to the education secretary. For their part, states should step up the help they give districts that have been chronically short of experienced and qualified teachers, the report said.

      Many policymakers and observers have mixed feelings about the teacher-quality provision of the law.

      Andrew J. Rotherham, a former education adviser to President Clinton and the co-director of the Education Sector, a Washington research and policy group, argues that the Bush administration is not enamored of requiring states to set teacher-quality agendas. “They are stuck here enforcing a policy they don’t believe in, and it shows,” he said.

      Others reject the law because they say it narrows the definition of good teaching or blames teachers for students’ failure to learn.

      Rob Weil, the deputy director for education issues at the American Federation of Teachers, said he has grown weary of plans that neglect the environments in which teachers work.

      “I’d hope they’d take seriously the other supports necessary to get students the education they deserve,” he said, listing school leadership, strong curriculum, and professional development for teachers, among others. “We’ve talked about these things many times, but they never seem to get done in the urban setting.”

      A version of this article appeared in the August 30, 2006 edition of Education Week as In Every Core Class, A Qualified Teacher. . .

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