Highly qualified teachers for all children

Thanks to my friend and TLN colleague, David B. Cohen,  for a timely reminder that the Senate is about to consider legislation that might put into law the 2010 U.S. Department of Education ruling on what constitutes a highly qualified teacher.

The DoEd ruling allowed states to classify interns from the hundreds of alternative route teacher certification programs around the country, such as Teach for America, as “highly qualified” teachers under the No Child Left Behind Act, and thereby eligible to receive a state teaching license, and more important, to be placed in charge as teacher of record, over classrooms of students. Some of these interns have as little as three weeks of training prior to entering the classroom. Most of them are entering classrooms for the first time with these shaky credentials, and are actually doing their “practice teaching” while they are in fact in charge of a classroom. During this practice year, they are usually assigned a mentor teacher or some other supervisor, but that person is only in the classroom with the novice for occasional visits and after school or Saturday training sessions. Subsequently, the 9th District Court ruled in Renee v. Duncan, that the Department ruling violated the law, but the practice still stands.

It is a well-established fact by many independent observers and by the DoE itself, that most, if not all, of these underprepared, not-yet-qualified candidates are place in schools and classrooms serving disabled, poor, or minority children.  Here in Mississippi, for example, almost all of the special education teachers going into our secondary schools in recent years have come exclusively from one of the alternate route programs. I say this as a member of our state Licensure Commission, fully aware that without these alternate route programs, many of our schools would not have teachers at all. But alternate route programs were developed as stop-gap, temporary measures to deal with a problem that demands a better solution, and that solution is to implement the good proposals sitting on the table to improve teacher preparation and induction so that ALL children in our public schools may have truly highly qualified teachers.

The U. S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Tom Harkin, is scheduled to consider a bill on Tuesday, June 12th that would extend the highly qualified amendment developed by the Department of Education, and groups are actively lobbying on both sides of this issue, which brings it back to much needed public scrutiny.

Teachers-in-training cannot and should not be labeled as highly qualified teachers. Doing so is deceptive and harmful to children, to parents, and to the candidates themselves. Parents and educators should make their voices and expertise heard on this issue.

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