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No State Meeting Teacher Provision of ‘No Child’ Law

By Bess Keller — May 23, 2006 6 min read

No state is expected to meet the looming deadline for putting a “highly qualified” teacher in every core-subject classroom, federal officials confirmed last week.

Nine states, along with Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, face losing federal money because of foot-dragging, the officials said. But those jurisdictions could also get off with agreeing to changes in the way they have been defining or tallying teachers’ status under the No Child Left Behind Act.

The states are Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Washington.

As passed by Congress in 2001, the federal education law, a centerpiece of President Bush’s first term, set the 100 percent goal for the end of this school year.

Now, however, all states will be required to say how they plan to reach the goal by the end of the coming school year.

Meanwhile, 29 states have made adequate progress complying with the law’s procedures and do not face penalties, the federal officials said. The remaining 12 states have not yet been fully assessed.

“State and local officials have addressed [the “highly qualified” provision] to different degrees,” said Henry L. Johnson, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education in the U.S. Department of Education. “At some point, there was a bit of a notion that this too shall pass.”

Federal officials plainly have been pushing to put that notion to rest in the past months, dishing out plenty of criticism for the states and raising the issue’s profile. The latest example came at a hastily called press conference May 12, when the three lists categorizing states’ status under the provision were unveiled. Several officials in the states cited for noncompliance said they thought they had had another few days to officially meet the Education Department’s expectations.

Assistant Secretary Johnson declined to be specific about what money might be withheld, but he said that in some cases it could be “a large amount.”

Closing the Teacher Gap

The states in the “possible sanctions” category most commonly did not measure up in providing complete or accurate data, said René Islas, a specialist in teacher quality for the department. He also faulted them as “not acting in good faith to make progress.”

Far to Go

Federal education officials put states in one of three categories depending on how well each state has complied with the procedural requirements of the “highly qualified” teacher provision of the No Child Left Behind Act. No state is expected to reach the goal by the deadline of the end of this school year.

Click to Enlarge: Far to Go

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education

The federal officials emphasized, too, that they were looking for states to have at least as many effective teachers in schools serving poor and minority students as in wealthier schools, which tend to draw better-prepared and more-experienced teachers.

Under the law, states are required to report annually the percentage of core-subject classes taught by highly qualified teachers. They are also required to break those numbers down for classes in high-poverty and in low-poverty schools.

In general, teachers are deemed to be highly qualified if they hold standard state certification and can demonstrate mastery of each subject they teach. New teachers do so by either passing a state test or having taken a college major or its equivalent in a subject. Teachers who were already in the classroom when the law was adopted may also qualify by passing a special High Objective Uniform State Standard of Evaluation, or HOUSSE.

Almost two-thirds of the states have reported that in the 2004-05 school year, more than 90 percent of their classes were taught by highly qualified teachers. All but two of the remaining states say they are in the 70 percent to 90 percent range.

Most states also say they are doing well in closing the gap between teacher quality in high- and low-poverty schools. All but five have reported single- rather than double-digit gaps in the percentages of elementary classes taught by highly qualified teachers, while 36 claim that much progress in their secondary schools.

Delaware is the lone state that has not reported any of those numbers, and it is one of those facing possible punishment. Delaware officials say they have had to build a teacher-data system from scratch in the face of many competing priorities.

Focus on Process

Strikingly, some of the other states in the “possible sanctions” category report among the highest teacher-quality numbers.

Minnesota education officials point to their figure of 97.6 percent of classes taught by highly qualified teachers, for example. “It’s unfortunate [the possible-sanctions list] was about process and not results,” said Jessie Montaño, who oversees NCLB efforts for the state education department.

Ms. Montaño said the state landed on the list because it had misidentified some special education teachers as highly qualified in last year’s data, assuming that teachers licensed for that area would meet the definition of highly qualified. But federal officials have insisted that special education teachers demonstrate content knowledge for any subjects they teach, though not where they are assisting students in another teacher’s classroom.

New special education teachers will need to take content tests from now on, Ms. Montaño said, while veterans will be subject to the state’s HOUSSE.

Minnesota also had not reported classes taught by highly qualified teachers, but rather school-by-school numbers, on its report card for the public.

North Carolina had a similar problem with how it reported teacher quality statewide, while Idaho had likewise not held special education teachers to the federal standard, according to spokeswomen for those states’ education departments. Both are facing penalties.

Three states in the sanctions category—Iowa, Montana, and Nebraska—were lobbying federal officials for a different approach to minting highly qualified elementary teachers, one that allowed teacher-preparation programs to meet a state standard of assessment rather than give the same test.

Kathi Slaughter, a spokeswoman for the Iowa education department, said that up until the week of the federal officials’ announcement, Iowa officials were under the impression they might make their case. She said the state now intends to give a standardized national test next year to the fledgling teachers.

Congressional Approval

Those three states “have tried to comply without undoing what demonstrably works, but the [U.S. Department of Education] apparently wanted to make an example of them,” Marty Strange, the policy director for the Rural School and Community Trust, wrote in an e-mail.

Members of Congress from both parties, meanwhile, endorsed the Education Department’s recent actions on teacher quality, while expressing disappointment that the goal for teacher quality set in the law for the end of the 2005-06 school year will not be met.

A spokesman for Rep. George Miller of California, who pushed for a teacher-quality provision in the No Child Left Behind Act, said the congressman—the ranking Democrat on the House education committee—was “sort of pleased with the direction the department is heading in.”

“Secretary [of Education Margaret] Spellings clearly takes the teacher-quality provision seriously,” the spokesman said, “and that’s a message she is sending to the states.”

Rep. Michael N. Castle, R-Del., agreed that the department’s hard line was welcome, even though it cast his own state in a negative light. “I don’t think the department should go along with every plan a state has conceived,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the May 24, 2006 edition of Education Week as No State Meeting Teacher Provision Of ‘No Child’ Law

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