Sunday, September 02, 2007

Highly Qualified Teachers

When I started teaching, the No Child Left Behind Act was 4 years in the future. There was no "highly qualified teacher" mandate. As a result, I taught my first year on an emergency credential (a bachelor's degree and a pulse) and my next two years on an intern credential, going to classes on nights and weekends through Project Pipeline. It wasn't until the start of my 4th year of teaching, with NCLB still a year away, that I had a clear credential.

While at the Dave Koz concert this summer I ran into Margaret Fortune, whose parents ran Project Pipeline and who now serves as an advisor to Governor Schwarzenegger. I asked her how NCLB's requirement that all teachers be "highly qualified" affected Project Pipeline, and she told me that interns, because they're taking classes, can be classified as "highly qualified".

Someone doesn't like that.

About 59,000 teachers across the country -- including 355 in the Sacramento region -- are considered "highly qualified" by the government even though they don't yet have a teaching credential, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

The suit alleges that a loophole in the No Child Left Behind law allows the government to misrepresent how prepared teachers are for their jobs, perpetuating a pattern of clustering inexperienced teachers in the neediest schools.

No Child Left Behind, a sweeping federal law intended to close the achievement gap and improve poor children's math and English skills, requires that all public school students have "highly qualified" teachers in core academic subjects. It also requires that states make an effort to spread teachers equitably among schools so that disadvantaged children are not more likely than others to be taught by underprepared teachers.

The federal Department of Education allows teachers to be labeled "highly qualified" even if they are interns, working in a classroom while in the process of earning a teaching credential.

"This violates both the letter and spirit of No Child Left Behind," said Jenny Pearlman, an attorney with Public Advocates, the legal group that filed the suit. "The act clearly defines a highly qualified teacher as one who has obtained full state certification."

I'm not convinced (yet) that that last statement is true. As I recall, the law allows states to define what constitutes "highly qualified", although there were some minimal requirements (like a bachelor's degree).

So what's the right answer in this case? If there were fully credentialed teachers, I'm sure the schools would have hired them. Perhaps districts could pay more, which would alter the supply/demand curve for teachers, but I doubt Californians are ready to pony up even more taxes to pay for that--and education already consumes a full 50% of our state budget.

Several commenters on the linked article made the point that "credentials" are paper that have nothing to do with quality or effectiveness anyway, that they focus on inputs (education classes) instead of outputs (student performance). Honestly, I'd bet that most Californians would be mortified if they saw what was actually taught in teacher education courses anyway, but that isn't the point. The point is, should interns, those who are working and going to school at the same time, be considered qualified under the law? Are they more or less "qualified" than someone just out of college and who completed the ed school credential?

And I have a question that was not answered, or even addressed, in the linked article. Who are these legal advocates that filed this lawsuit? What do they hope to get out of it? Whom do they represent?