TEACHERS: Point System Available to Earn ‘Qualified’ Status

By Joetta L. Sack — November 01, 2005 8 min read
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When President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law with great fanfare in January 2002, plenty of skeptics said states and districts would not be able to meet its demanding expectations.

They frequently pointed to the mandate that a “highly qualified” teacher be in every classroom in which a core subject is taught by the end of the 2005-06 school year.

How on earth would states already facing large shortages of teachers meet that requirement? Would many veteran teachers pass the bar? And what sort of systems could states build—given significant pressure from teachers’ unions—to ensure that those veterans would face a high enough hurdle while allowing them fair credit for their years of classroom experience?

Some researchers and teacher education experts now fear that the plans already approved for many states will reverse a decade of progress toward more exacting qualifications. Many states, they say, have weakened existing regulations, which some teachers could not pass, because of the federal mandate.

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings late last month outlined ways that states can get a year’s grace in meeting the deadline. (“States Given Extra Year On Teachers”, the issue.)

Opportunities Missed

Most states, as the federal law allows, have established a “high objective uniform state standard of evaluation,” or HOUSSE, plan to help veteran teachers who do not meet the obvious measures of subject-matter knowledge attain “highly qualified” status. Those systems, researchers say, vary widely in stringency and can weaken the intent of the NCLB law, depending on whether the state’s goal is to narrow or expand the pipeline for qualifying teachers.

As the now-extended deadline looms, only a handful of states appear willing to cooperate with the spirit of the law, contends Kate Walsh, the president of the Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality.

Some of the largest states—California, Florida, Michigan, and New York—are doing the worst jobs of building systems that ensure teachers are well versed in the subject matter they are teaching, according to Ms. Walsh’s research.

HOUSSE 1 & 2

To attain the “highly qualified” label through California’s HOUSSE Part 1, teachers may receive points for, among other accomplishments:

• Experience teaching in core area, 10 points per year, five years maximum

• Relevant college coursework

• Standards-aligned professional development, including participation in the national-board certification process

• Leadership activities, including mentoring

If a teacher does not earn enough points through that list, he or she may move to HOUSSE Part 2 which uses:

• Direct observations
• Portfolio asessments

SOURCE: Education Week

Thirty states have built a “point system” through HOUSSEs to help their experienced teachers pass the bar, but Ms. Walsh and other critics say most of those systems are subjective and even meaningless.

“Many states have gutted the opportunity to receive meaningful reform,” Ms. Walsh and co-author Emma Snyder wrote nearly a year ago in their report titled “Searching the Attic: How States Are Responding to the Nation’s Goal of Placing a Highly Qualified Teacher in Every Classroom.” In an e-mail last week, Ms. Walsh said she doubts that any states have since improved their plans, because they had already been given final approval by the federal Department of Education.

“The problem is we are hurriedly putting together point systems, and we don’t have reliable methods” for doing so, said Barnett Berry, the director of the Center for Teaching Quality, based in Chapel Hill, N.C. “We’re doing this in short order; state education departments don’t have the data systems or infrastructure, so there’s no time to deal with complexities like this.”

Even the states that are considered well intentioned—those that are setting tougher requirements for subject-matter knowledge—simply do not have the capacity to comb through college transcripts, administer subject-matter tests, and count points, Mr. Berry said.

“Many agencies are so overwhelmed, and oftentimes, they must put greater priority toward the student-achievement aspects of the law,” he said. “I’d be hard-pressed to say there’s a state that’s taken full advantage of this opportunity; they don’t have the resources, time, or staff to do so.”

California’s Routes

California is one of many states that are anxious to get teachers through the pipeline. The state has set up several routes for teachers already in the classroom to become highly qualified. Elementary teachers must have a bachelor’s degree and a state license or an intern certificate. They also must pass a multiple-subject exam or prove competence through a tiered HOUSSE plan.

Veteran middle and high school teachers must also hold a bachelor’s degree and full, regular credentials or an intern credential. Secondary teachers must meet additional criteria: pass a subject-matter exam, have a major or college coursework in the subject they are teaching, earn National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification, or complete California’s HOUSSE system.

About 2,600 teachers hold an “individualized-intern certificate,” which is the most controversial route because many of those teachers had previously worked with emergency permits while completing the additional requirements for certification. Those teachers were required to pass a test in subject-matter competence, though. As a result, their numbers have risen threefold in the past five years, as the number of those holding emergency permits has declined, according to research by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, in Santa Cruz, Calif.

Margaret Gaston, the executive director of the center, said her research group does not consider those teachers to have met the standard for being highly qualified because they still lack at least a few qualifications for their permanent licenses.

“These individuals who are applying for intern certificates are all over the map when it comes to where they are in the teacher-preparation process,” she said. “It can be someone who needed to complete one course, or someone just starting out, and everything in between.”

Last week, the state was preparing to settle a lawsuit by Californians for Justice, an advocacy group for low-income students. Filed this past summer, the suit charges that the intern certificate masks the number of underprepared teachers in California.

“We have a long-standing concern about the way the state is trying to adjust their definitions, … and our main concern is on using internships to identify highly qualified teachers,” said Mike Chavez, a spokesman for Californians for Justice. “We know it’s a big challenge, and we think the state really needs to face that problem and put the resources into it.”

The state already is trying to satisfy a court-ordered settlement from last year to provide competent teachers in schools affected by the Williams v. California school finance lawsuit. That far-reaching settlement ordered more equitable resources, including highly qualified teachers for the state’s poorest schools.

California was also one of eight states that received F’s from Ms. Walsh of the National Council on Teacher Quality on their HOUSSE point systems. She criticized the California system for its leniency in letting veteran teachers earn points toward “highly qualified” status for such activities as leadership and service roles over the course of their careers.

“These are all worthwhile activities, but what do they have to do with subject-matter knowledge?” Ms. Walsh and her co-author said in the report. “And if the menu of options isn’t enough to satisfy all teachers, there’s also the possibility of earning highly qualified status by providing evidence of a positive classroom observation or submitting a ‘successful portfolio assessment.’ ”

But California education officials point out that the HOUSSE system was designed to help those who already had significant experience teaching subjects they were not certified to teach. Further, the HOUSSE creates a tiered system in which most teachers earn points through experience and college courses before even considering activities such as mentoring or leadership roles.

Penni Hansen, a consultant in the professional-development and curriculum-support division of the California education department, said that most of the state’s teachers who had used the HOUSSE option easily met the most stringent HOUSSE requirements.

Only a handful have needed to use observation and portfolio assessment, she said. Those requirements “are much more rigorous than people realize,” she added.

Shortage Woes

Few places have a more severe, and chronic, shortage of teachers than the Golden State, a situation that is worsening as the deadline for the federal mandate on highly qualified teachers approaches.

The state’s problems began with its class-size-reduction requirement that went into effect for grades K-3 in 1996.

In addition, as many as one-third of the state’s 300,000 teachers could retire in the next decade, said Ms. Gaston. That, coupled with an annual attrition rate of about 4.6 percent, could translate into a need for more than 100,000 new teachers in the next 10 years, she said.

“California is in such desperate straits with its teacher shortage, which is persistent,” she said. “It’s quite a challenge to meet the requirements of NCLB within the context of California’s situation.”

Florida, which is facing many of the same shortage issues as California, is following a similar path to recognizing highly qualified veteran teachers. At the same time, it’s also grappling with rapidly increasing student enrollment.

According to Ms. Walsh’s report, Florida has built a system that is too broad to ensure its teachers are well versed in their subject areas. While they must pass a subject-matter evaluation, which she described as “essentially a one-shot annual observation by the principal,” six other indicators are also part of the process, such as taking college courses.With so many criteria, the subject-matter segment could be overshadowed, and thus the evaluation could allow many unqualified teachers to slip through the cracks, Ms. Walsh wrote.

Florida officials say they are confident that isn’t happening.

Pam Stewart, the deputy chancellor for K-12 educator quality, said that educators must have satisfactory evaluations over several years to be counted as highly qualified.

The state’s plan is based on successful years in the classroom, principals’ evaluations of teachers, and professional development, she added. “It is a number of years, not a one-shot, one-time” evaluation, she said. “They must have a number of successful years teaching in that subject.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 02, 2005 edition of Education Week as Meeting the Federal Standard Teachers:Point System Available to Earn‘Qualified’Status


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