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More Uncertainty in Highly Qualified Teacher Requirements

One of the more disruptive and confusing elements of the NCLB law has been the set of requirements that defined who was a “Highly Qualified Teacher”.  Here’s the latest twist. It relates to interns and participants in alternative certification programs who are working toward , but have not yet achieved “full state certification” including Teach for America participants. Even though it seems contradictory to the intent of the law, the federal Department of Education adopted a regulation in 2002 which allowed these folks to be considered ‘highly qualified’.

A court case, brought by parent and civil rights groups in California challenging the regulation and which had been denied by a lower court, was overturned on appeal recently by the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The effect of the decision would be that some teachers and interns would be considered less than highly qualified until they complete the full certification requirements of the state in which they are teaching. It also would require that parents be informed that their child is being taught by a “less than highly qualified teacher” as defined by NCLB.  This would impact TFA teachers whose organization filed an amicus brief unsuccessfully urging the appellate court to uphold the lower court decision.

To quietly attempt to remedy the situation, it has come to light that an exception has been inserted in the controversial Omnibus Reconciliation Bill recently pulled by Majority Leader Reed.

Valerie Strauss in her Washington Post education blog, the Answer Sheet, characterized the move in this way:

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.”

In response to the controversy, Senator Harkin, Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee issued the following statement:

“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.”

Just one more bump in the road for a deeply flawed law. Most pundits, by the way, are highly skeptical that Congress will “act quickly” to reauthorize the law when they return in January as Senator Harkin hopes.

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