[Update: This version includes new statement from Sen. Tom Harkin's office]
Should teachers still in training programs be considered "highly qualified" to teach kids?
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently ruled that they aren't, but some members of Congress think so.
Senators have included in key legislation language that would allow teachers still in training to be considered "highly qualified" so they can meet a standard set in the federal No Child Left Behind law.
In an era when the education mantra is that all kids deserve great teachers, some members of Congress want it to be the law of the land that a neophyte teacher who has demonstrated "satisfactory progress" toward full state certification is "highly qualified."
Teachers still in training programs are disproportionately concentrated in schools serving low-income students and students of color, the very children who need the very best the teaching profession has to offer. In California alone, nearly a quarter of such teachers work in schools with 98-100 percent of minority students, while some affluent districts have none. Half of California's teachers still in training teach special education.
Allowing non-certified teachers to be considered "highly qualified" would be a gift to programs such as Teach for America, which gives newly graduated college students from elite institutions five weeks of summer training before sending them into low-performing schools. Teach for America participants, who commit to staying in the program for two years, then continue education studies while they are teaching.
Under No Child Left Behind, all students are supposed to have a highly qualified teacher. School districts are supposed to let parents know which teachers are not highly qualified, and they are supposed to be equitably distributed in schools.
But the federal government issued a regulation in 2002 that included in the definition of "highly qualified" those teachers -- called interns in some states -- who are still participating in alternative route preparation programs.
A lawsuit -- opposed by Teach for America -- challenged the regulation, and a lower court ruled in favor of the Education Department, but last September, the appellate court reversed the ruling.
So language to make the regulation law was inserted into one bill, an omnibus Senate bill that was pulled by Sen. Harry Reid. But it's back, this time in a continuing resolution unveiled today, and hammered out behind closed doors by legislators who ignored pleas from student advocacy groups to drop the measure.
That's some way to make education policy that will affect the country's most needy students.
The office of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who is chairman of the Senate's education committee, sent this statement late today:
"There is broad, bipartisan agreement among members of Congress and the Obama administration that it is the intent of Congress for alternative-route teachers to be considered highly qualified, consistent with the regulation that has been in place for several years. Chairman Harkin strongly believes that teacher quality is essential to student success, and intends to address this issue as part of a comprehensive ESEA reauthorization. While that process is underway, the 9th Circuit's decision – which reverses a previous court ruling in favor of the regulation – could cause significant disruptions in schools across the country and have a negative impact on students. Maintaining current practice is a temporary solution, and underscores the need to act quickly and reauthorize ESEA early in the next Congress."
What this will mean is that parents won't have to be told that their child's teacher is still being trained, and that teachers in training can still be inequitably placed in high-poverty schools.
There are surely some teachers still in training who are excellent teachers. But to declare that all of them are "highly qualified" doesn't make them so. It defies logic. Except in Congress and the Education Department.
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