Move to Get a Top Teacher in Every Major Class
by Ben Feller, Detroit News, September 1, 2003
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After more than 25 years giving science tests to her
middle-school students, Rebecca Pringle may have to pass one
herself to prove she's qualified to teach the subject.
Pringle has bachelor's and master's degrees in education, but
that's not enough under federal education law. Because she
doesn't have a science degree, she'll have to take a test
showing her mastery of the topic or pass a state evaluation that
could include a test.
"I'm still in a state of anger and resistance," said Pringle, an
eighth-grade teacher at Susquehanna Township Middle School in
Harrisburg, Pa. "It's not fair to change the rules in the middle
of the game. ... I have prided myself in staying current and
being active in the field. For all that to be reduced to a
multiple-choice test is an insult."
Around the country, public school teachers are going through a
quality check. By the end of the 2005-06 school year, federal
education law says, every teacher of core subjects from English
to the arts must be highly qualified.
The premise of the law is widely embraced: Quality teaching
leads to higher student achievement, and poor and minority
students, in particular, deserve a greater supply of teachers
who are well versed in their subjects.
Of 3 million teachers, it is not clear how many meet the mark.
By Monday, states must report their share of highly qualified
teachers and how quickly the number will rise over three years.
"Highly qualified" means teachers who have a bachelor's degree,
a state license or certification and clear knowledge of the
topic they teach.
It's the way the law is playing out that has many teachers
Beverly Ingle, a sixth-grade teacher at Laredo Middle School in
Aurora, Colo., is starting her 25th year teaching. She may not
be highly qualified because of the way the law handles different
Middle school teachers must have a college major in each subject
they teach -- in her case, social studies and reading -- or pass
a rigorous test in those subjects. If Ingle taught sixth grade
at an elementary school, she would only have to show mastery
over a basic elementary curriculum.
It's not yet clear if she'll satisfy the third option, her
"It's really unfair, but what am I going to do about it?" Ingle
said. "I'll suck it up, like we always do as teachers, and I'll
take more classes."
States are figuring out how teachers can show mastery of their
subjects without taking tests that some consider demeaning.
Among the proposals: strong job evaluations, service on
curriculum committees, published articles and leadership. Under
the law, states may consider how long a teacher has taught a
subject but, significantly, may not base their standard on that.
The law isn't meant to punish, said Eugene Hickok, the
undersecretary of education.
The Education Department is working with states to address
common concerns, such as: How can someone who teaches several
subjects to disabled students reasonably demonstrate mastery of
all those topics? What about a rural teacher who handles several
At the same time, Hickok said, the law intends to make sure that
longtime teachers are in class because of skills and knowledge,
not because of seniority. "It's not unusual, sadly, to have 12-
or 15-year career professionals in place who really aren't the
kind of professionals we need," he said.
Meanwhile, the law encourages new routes to the classroom. The
American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence requires
teachers to pass tests in subjects and instruction ability but
demands no classroom experience or traditional education
coursework. Mentoring comes on the job.
"The marketplace for teachers is so much broader than we allow
today," said Lisa Graham Keegan, a leader of the organization.
"We just have to go get them."
The National Education Association, the country's largest
teachers union, says the law should be changed to close
loopholes for teachers in charter schools and those earning an
alternative certification. The NEA also says states deserve more
flexibility, such as with special-education teachers who handle
In some cases, teachers face no extra steps. Jamie Sawatzky, a
fourth-year history teacher at Rocky Run Middle School in
Chantilly, Va., qualifies with a degree in his subject. But he
worries the law will prevent school administrators from hiring
people who have intangible qualities to be brilliant teachers.
In New Orleans, new superintendent Anthony Amato must turn
around a school system that, as he puts it, is most noted for
failing test scores and leadership troubles. The teacher quality
assignment is another huge task, as 40 percent of his teachers
are not certified to teach their subjects or not certified at
all, he said.
He has added literacy and math training for teachers and worked
with local universities to coordinate teacher certification
programs, among other steps.
"I feel the sense of urgency from the federal government, and I
don't mind at all. That's how I work anyway," Amato said. "If we
can make it work here, it can be a real message to urban systems
nationwide: Don't back down."
The law may prompt some veterans to retire early and may
discourage people from becoming teachers, said Charlene
Christopher, a special-education specialist at Norfolk Public
Schools in Virginia. But some won't be fazed, she said -- the
ones "who will be there until they roll us out."
And if states fall short of the teacher mandate? Greater
pressure from parents could be in store, as states, districts
and schools must publicize information about how many teachers
miss the mark.
Ultimately, the hammer may be money. Federal officials may
withhold aid that many schools rely upon, as Hickok
acknowledged, although he said states are showing good faith.
"If a serious effort is being made to accomplish the purposes of
No Child Left Behind, even if you fall short, that's different
than a statement that says, 'We really don't care,"' Hickok
"Our goal is to find ways to accomplish this as a nation."
Teacher Quality: What's required
Teacher-quality requirements of the No Child Left Behind law:
-- Every public school teacher of a core academic subject must
be highly qualified by the end of the 2005-06 school year.
-- Teachers of core subjects must be highly qualified now if
they were hired since the 2002-03 year began and work in jobs
supported by Title I, a federal aid program for poor students.
-- Core subjects are English, reading/language arts, math,
science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics,
arts, history and geography.
-- Highly qualified means that teachers must be certified or
licensed to teach in their state, must hold at least a
bachelor's degree and must show mastery of subjects they teach.
Criteria for demonstrating mastery of subjects vary by grade and
experience level of teachers.
-- New elementary school teachers must pass a rigorous state
test to show teaching skills and knowledge in reading, writing,
math and other areas of basic elementary level curriculum.
-- New middle or high school teachers must pass a rigorous test
in all academic subjects they teach -- or they must hold an
academic major, the coursework equivalent of a major, a graduate
degree or advanced certification or credentials in all subjects
-- Teachers who are not new to the profession have the same
options that new teachers do to prove they are competent in what
they teach. But they can also be deemed highly qualified if they
meet a standard set by their state.
-- No teachers who have temporary, provisional or emergency
state certification or licensing will be considered highly
-- Teachers in an alternative certification program will be
considered highly qualified while they complete the program,
provided it meets conditions, such as ongoing guidance for
-- States must publish a yearly report card, including the
percentage of classes not taught by highly qualified teachers.
School districts that receive Title I money must do the same.
-- Any school that receives Title I money must notify parents if
their child has been taught for four or more consecutive weeks
by a teacher who is not highly qualified.
-- Any school district that receives Title I money must ensure
that low-income and minority students are not taught by
unqualified teachers at higher rates than other students.
-- States must produce a plan by Sept. 1 that sets annual,
measurable goals for increasing their number of highly qualified
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