It’s official. The term “highly qualified” means absolutely nothing as it relates to teachers under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). All parents should disregard this designation for their children’s teachers. Dysfunctional and hypocritical members of Congress have legislated a loophole so big that it obliterates any meaningful definition of quality teaching. The result is that friends of certain members of Congress benefitted at the expense of our nation’s most vulnerable children. Let me explain.
In the original “No Child Left Behind” version of ESEA, teachers were required to hold degrees in their teaching areas and to meet licensure standards. Students’ parents were notified if their children’s teachers didn’t meet those standards. Further, equitable distribution of these teachers was required. Many teachers who were assigned to teach outside their areas of licensure spent their own time and money to meet this higher standard. This was not easy for these teachers; yet, most teachers rose to the challenge as they always do.
For alternative licensure programs like Teach For America (TFA), this requirement posed a problem. Their recruits did not meet this standard. To resolve this situation, congressional friends of TFA stuck in a provision to allow those TFA recruits two years to meet the standards of the law. (Most TFA recruits don’t remain in teaching more than the organization’s required two years.) That provision was to expire this year. Because TFA and other similar organizations have not made necessary changes to ensure compliance, they once again sought a loophole. They mobilized their resources, friends, and carefully-placed alumni to sneak an extension of this provision into the legislation to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. I believe we can expect this tactic to be used regularly thereby yielding the standard requiring highly qualified teachers meaningless.
The hypocrisy at play here is blatant. First, we heard all this rhetoric from Democrats insisting they would only vote for a clean bill. It was the responsibility of Congress to pay their bills and keep our government working for the people. Every bill sent to the Senate by the Republican House was rejected because of that mantra. We all supported the Democrats and made our calls and sent our emails with that message. Then, we learned that it was Democrats who inserted this provision to undermine the teaching profession. Behind the scenes, Senator Harkin of Iowa was considered the point person with his staff, including a former TFA participant. Sources told us that Secretary Arne Duncan and Senator Bennett of Colorado made telephone calls to encourage this. Obviously, Senator Reid of Nevada and his Republican counterparts, Senators McConnell of Kentucky and Alexander of Tennessee, were enablers. It is obvious this provision didn’t meet the test for a “clean” bill.
The worst hypocrisy came from the sanctimonious comments of congressional members who touted the importance of teachers and talked eloquently about family members who are teachers. They then did more harm to the teaching profession with their “anyone can teach” mentality and provision than those who openly propose programs to undermine public education in this country.
I am disgusted with this Congress for so many reasons, but the TFA provision is a key one. I want more choices in the primaries of both the Republican and Democratic parties. I want Republican educators and moms and dads who have children in public schools to challenge anti-public school incumbents in Congress and change the system of governing. I want Democratic educators and moms and dads to challenge Democratic members of Congress who show disrespect for the teaching profession or, worse, take teachers’ votes for granted.
Our democracy allows us to make change. Our passion for public schools and teachers demands change.
The opinions expressed in John Wilson Unleashed are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.