• from the Florida Times-Union - Florida Needs More "Highly Qualified" Teachers

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Florida Needs More "Highly Qualified" Teachers

June 16, 2006

By William L. Bainbridge

Florida State Commissioner of Education John L. Winn has called his state's education reforms "some of the most innovative and rigorous" in the country.

Nevertheless, Florida county school districts are not meeting a key provision of the Federal "No Child Left Behind" law. The section of the law that was intended to guarantee students have teachers who know the subjects they teach has not yet produced the intended results in any state.

It is one of the few worthwhile provisions in the flawed NCLB legislation.

Although Winn says "our teachers have risen to the challenge by working to improve their skills to align them with Sunshine State Standards," Florida is one of a majority of states expected not to meet the June 30 deadline to place a "highly qualified" teacher in every core-subject classroom.

Under most circumstances, Florida's efforts to place highly trained teachers in all classrooms would qualify as an "A," but to the federal government, the quality factor still misses the mark.

To be " highly qualified," teachers in core academic subjects must be fully certificated by the state, hold a bachelor's or higher degree from an accredited or approved institution, and demonstrate subject matter competency for each core academic subject assigned.

They must major and take subject content courses as required by the Florida Department of Education and have a passing score on Florida subject area examinations, or hold advanced certificates. Teachers of multiple subjects must be "highly qualified" in each of their core subject teaching areas.

It is highly unlikely that a single state will meet the NCLB law's expectation.

The law was signed in the glow of the media in 2002, with strange bedfellows, President George W. Bush and Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, collaborating. NCLB's "highly qualified teacher" provision required new national standards for teachers who teach the core academics of English, reading language arts, math, science, foreign languages, civics, government, economics, history, geography and the arts (visual and performing, excluding dance). This law applies only to those teaching in core academic areas who are listed as the "teacher of record."

School systems in Florida need to hire over 30,000 new teachers this year due to the State class-size amendment and exploding population growth among families with school-age children. Federal officials indicate the state will not be penalized for missing the deadline, however nine other states face sanctions. They are Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina and Washington, plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. Federal officials have not indicated how much aid could be withheld from states to force compliance, but they appear to be considering large sums of dollars.

School administrators find many provisions of the law confusing and may seek waivers from the Florida Department of Education to hire teachers who are not certificated. However district leaders need to demonstrate they made a good-faith effort to hire licensed teachers.

Local school systems in recent years have seen a shortage of teachers in certain subject areas, particularly math, science and special education. Turnover is common, and is often blamed on low salaries and difficult environments.

Although the federal term is "highly qualified," the definition is really a baseline qualification because it requires teachers to be educated in all subjects they teach. The U.S. Department of Education recently, and belatedly, ordered every state to explain how it will have 100 percent of its core teachers qualified in the 2006-07 school year.

Since there is a high relationship between student learning outcomes and qualified teachers, the lack of progress in meeting the "highly qualified" definition is troublesome.

There is no higher priority than moving forward to meet this standard. Every child does deserve to have highly qualified teachers in all subjects. A systemic look at ways to deal with teacher supply, demand and compensation is long overdue.

is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data firm.

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