Southeastern States Struggle with Teacher-Quality Rules
By Eric Kelderman, Staff Writer
Southeastern states are lowering the bar for teacher qualifications and using federal rules under the No Child Left Behind Act as a maximum standard rather than a minimum, according to a report released today (Aug. 2).
The study by the Southeast Center for Teacher Quality concludes that some states are focusing only on what teachers know and not how well they convey that knowledge to students.
Under the No Child Left Behind Act, President George W. Bush's landmark education law of 2002, all teachers are required to be "highly qualified" have a bachelor's degree, be fully licensed to teach in their state and prove their knowledge in subjects that they teach.
"Highly qualified" under the law does not mean high quality, said Eric Hirsch, one of the report's authors. Subject specific knowledge is important, but successful teachers need to know how to address different students' learning needs and skill levels, the report says.
In particular, non-traditional teacher certification programs meant to give potential teachers a path to the classroom without going back to college may be putting unprepared teachers in the most challenging classrooms, the study warned.
The law was not meant to focus exclusively on subject knowledge, but to even out the heavy emphasis states placed on pedagogy, said Rene Islas, special assistant at the U.S. Department of Education.
The federal law also requires states to provide support and professional development to teachers to help them become more effective in the classroom, Islas said. And allowing new flexibility for teacher certification eliminates the barriers to teaching while raising the standards.
Hirsh said that without ensuring that teachers are high quality, states and school districts will have a harder time meeting the testing requirements of No Child Left Behind.
The No Child Left Behind Act requires states to give annual reading and mathematics tests to students in third- through eighth-grade and 10th grade. Under the law, the number of students who pass state tests must steadily increase and all students must pass the tests by 2014. Schools are penalized if they miss the testing targets for two consecutive years, and subgroups of minorities, low-income and disabled children also must meet the benchmarks. Penalties range from allowing students to transfer to higher-scoring schools to providing extra tutoring to facing state takeover.
The center's report also found that rural and urban schools are having the biggest problems hiring and keeping qualified teachers because they cannot offer the higher salaries of well-funded suburban districts. States and school districts should try more creative approaches, such as improving working conditions and professional development programs, according to the center's research.
Most schools are required to meet those teacher quality goals by the 2005-2006 school year. The U.S. Department of Education gave veteran teachers in nearly 5,000 rural school districts until the spring of 2007 to comply. Newly hired teachers in the rural districts have until 2009 to meet the standards.
Only 66 districts in 11 southeastern states qualify for the later deadline, according to the Rural School and Community Trust. Small schools in the south and southeast are generally part of countywide school systems, which were not granted the extra time to meet the teacher quality deadline.