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AFT to Senate: Keep Paraprofessional Qualifications in NCLB Rewrite

It's gone all but unremarked that, under Sen. Alexander's draft No Child Left Behind reuathorization bill, the teacher- and paraprofessional-quality requirements in the law would disappear. 

This is roughly consistent with Alexander's general theory underlining the rewrite, which is to return much authority to states on accountability. (The NCLB law, in fact, was the very first time the feds had ever prescribed teacher or paraprofssional certification requirements; until then it had been exclusively a state matter.)

But in a letter sent Jan. 27 to Alexander and Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking member, the American Federation of Teachers argues that the paraprofessional requirements should stay. 

Let's back up for a minute here for a bit of history: The requirements were put in in the NCLB law because Congress was worried about the high number of untrained paraprofessionals that were being employed in schools receiving Title I funds for disadvantaged students. The law, as a result, required paraprofessionals to hold at least a high school degree, complete 2 years of college study, and either obtain an associate's degree or pass an assessment showing their ability to assist in reading, writing, and math instruction. 

You'll note that they roughly parallel the "highly qualified" teacher requirements in the law, although these applied only to paras working in Title I schools. (HQT, by contrast, applied to all teachers of core subjects, regardless of where they were working.)

The union says that, unlike teacher certification, most states had virtually nothing on the books regarding these assistants, so removing the federal requirements could potentially undermine paraprofessional quality.

"This is a problem: Many states never implemented their own standards because the federal standards for NCLB-funded positions were in place. Unlike the highly qualified reuqirements fo teachers, which are generally regarded as a low bar 13 years after their introduction in NCLB, the qualifications for paraprofessionals still stand as a high bar," the union says in the letter. 

The union cites Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Pa., and Albuquerque, N.M., as places where the federal requirements ultimately led to improved training and professional development for paras.

There are about 1 million paras in all, and AFT represents 200,000 of them, the union says.

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