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Unqualified (Again)


Thousands of secondary special education teachers in Michigan have lost their status as highly-qualified teachers because of a governmental mix-up. Michigan allowed its secondary education teachers to gain status as “highly qualified” teachers by taking an exam for elementary education, the Detroit Free Press reported today.

In September, the U.S. Department of Education caught the state’s folly. Now, to comply with the No Child Left Behind law and to avoid sanctions from the federal government, Michigan must re-qualify its teachers.

The state is giving the teachers until June 30, 2009, to re-qualify, which they can do by taking a secondary-level test in each of the subjects they teach. School administrators statewide are working closely with the frustrated teachers to facilitate the process.

"I just want Michigan and the federal government to be on the same page and not make us do things that are useless, not waste our time," said Kelly Campbell, one of the thousands of affected Mich. teachers.

A spokeswoman from the U.S. Department of Education said that getting secondary special education teachers highly qualified is a nationwide problem. She added that she did not know of any other states that used an elementary education exam to qualify secondary school teachers.


Certainly the state of Michigan was wrong to allow an Elementary test for Secondary teachers--but I also wonder what the teachers were thinking. Was the El Ed test the only means of qualifying, or was in one of several options--that might include secondary certification? Only in the last sentence is there a reference to Special Education teachers. This provides a needed perspective. One means of infantilizing students with disabilities is to assume that their secondary teachers don't really need to have much subject knowledge. I have seen this in teachers achieving HQ status by racking up credits in a content area below the grade level of the students that they teach--after all their students "don't need" or wouldn't understand the more appropriate coursework. Unfortunately after years of worksheets and fill in the blanks from whatever resources are handy for special education teachers overwhelmed by teaching multiple needs and grade levels in isolation from the rest of their school, students are many years behind at the high school level.

Placing the blame on the teachers is not productive, nor is it appropriate. The government has from the get-go made "highly qualified" status of special education teachers a moving target. After the law was initially passed, it took an extensive length of time to determine just what would be required for special education professionals to prove that they were "highly qualified" to do the job that the state government had already certified them to do. When the requirements finally came out, this test was, granted, only one of several options, but it was one of the less expensive options and was comprehensive. The elementary test assesses competence in all core subject areas, and the other options required demonstrating competence in individual subject areas. For special education teachers who would provide instruction in several areas, the cost of graduate credits and/or individual subject area tests would be prohibitive. Then, a year or so later, the state is again telling these certified, endorsed, professionals, "Oops!". Aside from that, most special education teachers have earned or are working toward master's degrees in SPECIAL EDUCATION, the coursework for which includes the specialized teaching methods for students with the wide variety of disabilities they encounter. Nowhere in the "highly qualified" requirements for special ed. is any kind of acknowledgment of special needs made. As a special education teacher (22 years, and highly qualified), I can attest to the far more important knowledge of the unique needs of students with various disabilities. The bottom line is, the federal and state governments need to make up their collective minds as to just what makes a teacher qualified, and allow us to get back to the important thing--teaching!

To Michelle: I am certain that the State of Michigan was responding to teachers unions and local school boards when they allowed an El Ed test to determine highly qualified status for special education teachers at the secondary level. These groups would have made the same argument that you just made--that it was comprehensive and the least expensive option. Further it allows the continuation of the widespread practice of providing special education services in resource rooms rather than in regular classrooms.

The problem, of course, is, that it sets a lower content standard for students with disabilities. Students with disabilities absolutely need teachers who are highly educated and experienced in their individual needs. This does not qualify those teachers to deliver the content, however. If schools were using the expertise of special educators in conjunction with highly qualified content teachers the special education certification would be sufficient. But this would require a much higher level of inclusion, and actual delivery of services in the regular education classroom.

Both the federal government and state governments (as they seek to comply with federal guidelines) have been urging this for years. The very fact that we call the "resource room," the resource room, instead of the special ed room points towards the role that it is supposed to occupy. The problem is that the resource room has never become an adjunct resource to the classroom--it remains a classroom for those with disabilities. We would never expect a teacher of non-disabled students to "cover" as many subjects as are "taught" in many secondary resource rooms. That is why there is no comprehensive secondary credential for those special education teachers to test into.

As a parent of a student with disabilities I was very glad to see that highly qualified requirements would mandate that he have access to teachers with content qualifications. It has been a major disappointment to me that my state has taken an easy route to grandfathering his special education teachers. Not that they aren't all wonderful people. But he ALSO needs a math teacher who has studied mathematics and a science teacher who has studied science.

A special education resource teacher should be just that--a resource. I teach special education at the elementary level. I have a special ed degree as well as an elem. ed degree.
However, I am NOT the teacher of record. I do NOT teach the core curriculum. I do NOT grade the students.
I AM a resource to both students and general ed teachers. I DO attempt to remediate areas of deficit for students as well as back-up and/or lend support in curricular areas affected by disability. I DO assess progress towards specific IEP goals (which should address areas of deficit) and I DO assess progress in grade level, general ed curriculum. I DO provide and/or assist in providing accommodations or modifications in the general classroom and curriculum.

The teachers in the state of Michigan were most likely interested in becoming highly qualified at the level of curriculum of which they teach. As a high school special ed. math teacher, the highest level of math in my classroom is pre-algebra. The majority of my students are learning at the 4th grade level and are working on memorizing their multiplication facts and learning fraction skills - all elementary level skills. The El. Ed. Highly-qualified test would be the most appropriate one for me to pass.

It does my heart good to hear from Leigh, who apparently teaches in a district that "gets it" with regard to making best and appropriate use of the expertise of special eduation professionals. Cheryl worries me, however. It is possible that she teaches only students who qualify for alternate assessment (those who are cognitively disabled) in which case she is correct, that the El Ed certification would likely be most appropriate (and as I read the law, I believe that NCLB is in agreement). However, many more students who are NOT cognitively disabled arrive at the high school level with five or more years of "memorizing their multiplication facts," and are expected to continue in this vein for another four years. These students would benefit far more from the combined work of a special education teacher who can provide accommodations (like say, a calculator, or oral presentations of material, or assistance with organizing, or manipulative presentations, or working through behavioral modifications) and a teacher who understands what it means to divide one fourth by one half or why it matters that the sum of the squares of the sides of an isoceles right triangle is equal to the square of the hypotenuese.

The Special Education teachers I work with experienced a lot of trauma when the requirements for HQT became known. I am certified in three content areas as well as PS Ed and can only get a tutoring job because of my age. I took HQT classes in math and Language Arts and found that they had the rigor of an earthworm in a blender. Yet, the BOE continues to hire SP ed teachers with bachelor's right out of school with ...an elementary school certificate or intervention specialist license for the high schools...go figure! Let's face it, districts want kids right out of college who are cheap. They skip over many people who are more qualified in the content areas because they have too much education and will cost more. Schools need to decide whether they want the quality a content-licensed teacher brings to the table or someone who is fresh out of college and cheap. If they want to pass the standardized tests, they need to look for quality.

I am in neigboring Wisconsin where Special Education teachers at the secondary level are required to take the ETS Middle School Praxis exam. We have similiar headaches with regard to these examinations the federal government urges states to use to prove HQT status.
What concerns me the most is that in our state ('05-'06) passing rate summary less than 2% of any one ethnic minority group had taken either the Praxis II Middle or Elementary Ed. exam. What is this test if not an educational and economic gatekeeper?

I am a regular ed teacher in the classroom. With inclusion, I have a lot of SPED students, however, the district does not give me the inclusion teacher I'm supposed to have in each class. I have SPED students in each class but only have an inclusion teacher in one class, and he is a sub. Not HQT in any area of SPED. I still have to make accomodations for 11 students in one class; 9 in another; and 6 in still another. It would be great if I could use the same accomodations for all but it doesn't work that way. They all have different needs. Sometimes I am forced to use a worksheet. It's not my choice but I have limitations, I lost my SUPERWOMAN status because I don't earn enough to pay my membership dues. I am also the adoptive parent of six high risk, special needs children, one of whom I fought with the district almost daily to get them to adhere to his IEP. I can empathize with every poster here. Is there an answer? How do we do what is best for the children? I am at school until 8:00 p.m. most nights just trying to keep my head above water and they have forbidden us to come in on weekends because an administrator has to be present, so I bring it home. I am so grateful my last child has graduated. It is so disheartening to see what teachers endure to do a profession most of them love. With four degrees, I now earn less than half of what I earned in 1988 with a high school diploma. The things we do for love. I hope that we as a nation can come to a workable solution for the sake of the children. However, I fear that won't happen as long as education is a for profit entity for the powers that be. We need to teach our children for they are our future. They are not a commodity. Thanks. Vianne

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