U.S. Education Department Set to Ease Teacher Quality Rules for Rural Schools

 

The U.S. Department of Education will loosen some teacher qualification requirements under the No Child Left Behind law as part of its ongoing effort to extinguish a national firestorm of criticism.

New rules for teacher qualifications in rural schools will be announced next week, Secretary of Education Rod Paige told a group of state legislators Thursday in Washington, D.C.

Those changes will mark the third time since December that the Education Department has bent to state demands on President George W. Bush's signature domestic policy, which requires schools to improve test scores for all children. The act also requires all teachers by 2006 to have degrees in the subjects they teach and pass state subject-matter tests.

Despite recent concessions on testing disabled and non-English speaking children, the law remains under heavy fire from Democrats and Republicans alike, even as they laud its goal of educating poor, minority and disabled children.

"The changes help a little, but not a lot," said Rep. Joe Hackney (D) of North Carolina. "There are lots of problems being created and very few problems being solved."

One of the latest states to take action is Arizona, where the GOP-controlled House is considering a bill to reject the act's requirements and a share of its federal education dollars.

In addition, school superintendents in Florida, where Bush's brother Jeb is governor, are demanding that the state renegotiate its agreement with the federal government on how to implement the law.

In total, more than 20 state legislatures have considered bills or resolutions criticizing the law as an unfunded mandate and an unprecedented federal intrusion into state and local education policy. States calling for changes include Republican strongholds of Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah and Virginia.

"Believe me, I've heard you," Paige told state lawmakers Thursday. "And I have tried to respond to these concerns."

Dane Linn, director of Education Policy Studies at the National Governors Association said: "The Department [of Education] is definitely being responsive to the issues states are raising." "But concerns at the local level are reaching the boiling point."

Vermont state Senator Peter Welch (D) was not impressed with Paige's remarks. "The question I went in with was, show me the money. But he didn't."

"Our view is, in Vermont, it's an unfunded mandate," Welch said.

Paige argued that the federal government has increased education funding by 36 percent since Bush took office.

He also criticized a new study by the National Conference of State Legislatures that says the federal government needs to provide an additional $9.6 billion to cover the law's costs. A study praised by Paige says that the act will require $8 billion more from the federal government.

Paige who recently apologized for calling a national teachers union a terrorist organization also blamed "people who are purposely causing a dust-up for political gain."

"They have their own agenda, which isn't always accuracy or helping children," Paige said. "I believe that the American public will see through such tactics."

But David Shreve, an education researcher for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said the Education Department is just trying to put the best face on its actions. "The strategy from the administration is to say the law is fine. At the same time they're falling all over themselves to make changes and respond to concerns." 

 
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