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House Extends Labeling of Trainee Teachers as 'Highly Qualified'

The disability advocacy community has been worried that a provision in federal law about who is considered a highly qualified teacher would be perpetuated as lawmakers take up new spending bills for the coming fiscal year.

Earlier this year, the Senate merely left the door open to extending a provision that 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.

The department's regulations on these alternative routes were set to expire, but as my colleague Alyson Klein explains over at the Politics K-12 blog, the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday extended the provision through the end of the 2014-15 school year.

In a letter earlier this week, the Coalition for Teaching Quality, which includes the Council for Exceptional Children, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, and several other special education and disability advocacy groups, urged Congress not to extend the alternative routes to being highly qualified beyond next year.

"Allowing this temporary provision to sunset on June 30, 2013 would represent an important step forward in providing thousands of high need students and families across the country equal access to high quality teachers, and will signal a positive change of course on this critical issue," the group wrote.

But the House panel did just the opposite.

That didn't sit well with James Wendorf, executive director of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, who said the House action will keep parents from knowing their children are being taught by teachers with all of their required qualifications.

"It is my hope that this bill can be improved as it goes through the legislative process and is conferenced with the Senate bill," he said. "We can't afford to back away from our commitment to support students with learning disabilities through federal education programs."

As Alyson points out, however, the effect of the provision may grow smaller and smaller as the Education Department approves more and more waivers of the requirements of the No Child Left Behind law. The waivers give states an out from a lot of the highly qualified teacher rules, so long as they create teacher evaluations that consider student achievement.

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