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Advocates: Don't Call Teachers-in-Training 'Highly Qualified'

UPDATED

The Senate Appropriations Committee said Thursday they are still deciding how to proceed regarding the highly qualified teacher provision you'll read about below. They didn't extend it yesterday, but they didn't close the door on it entirely, either, saying they need to . I'll keep you posted.


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Special education advocates are worried that a provision in federal law about who is considered a highly qualified teacher could be perpetuated when the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee meets today.

Although a Senate subcommittee didn't address the issue during a vote about the budget on Tuesday, groups including the National Center on Learning Disabilities, Easter Seals, and the National Disability Rights Network say the issue isn't dead just yet.

In essence, the provision allows teachers still working on their certification to be considered "highly qualified"—a designation created by 2001's No Child Left Behind law. The law says teachers must already be certified to qualify, but Education Department regulations created about the law allowed for teachers in alternative routes to be considered highly qualified, even if they were still working on their certification. For example, people in the classroom as part of the Teach for America training program would fall into this category.

An appeals judge sided with a group of parents and advocacy groups in a California lawsuit against the federal Education Department over the alternate path to being a highly qualified teacher. The court found that the Bush administration's 2002 regulation on highly qualified teachers improperly broadened the No Child Left Behind statute by allowing alternative-route teachers to circumvent the definition. The statute requires highly qualified teachers to hold full certification, while the regulations permits teachers in alternative routes to be considered HQ, even without certification, if they are making progress in their programs.

But a Senate provision tucked into a previous budget bill rendered the court ruling moot, legitimizing the highly qualified label for teachers on a path to certification.

The National Center on Learning Disabilities—which is urging calls to senators to ensure the provision is killed—notes that students with disabilities, English-language learners, poor students, and students of color are the ones most likely to be taught by uncertified teachers.

In a letter to the Senate this week, the Education Task Force of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities said that perpetuating this method of being considered highly qualified is especially harmful for students with disabilities:

The ongoing lowering of standards related to highly qualified teachers will negatively impact students with disabilities. Research shows that students with disabilities thrive when receiving instruction from fully certified special education teachers. An Institute for Education Sciences study of all Florida teachers (Feng & Sass, 2010) found that fully certified special education teachers generate superior student learning gains as compared to special education teachers who are not fully certified. The current amendment has opened the floodgates for more and more uncertified special education teachers to serve students with disabilities.

Without any action by Congress, the alternate path to being considered highly qualified will disappear on its own, but it's unclear whether the Senate Appropriations Committee will give it new life today. At the same time, if they do, it may not apply in some states that have been granted NCLB waivers. They could do an end-run around the highly qualified requirements.

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