By Valerie Strauss
This letter was just sent to President Obama by more than 50 organizations -- including education, civil rights, disability, student, parent, and community groups -- about legislation in Congress that would allow teachers still in training to be considered “highly qualified” so they can meet a standard set in the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Dear Mr. President:
As organizations concerned with promoting educational quality and equity, particularly for students who have traditionally been least well served by our educational system, we are deeply committed to the development of well-prepared, experienced, and effective teachers for all communities, and to ensuring that every student has a fully prepared and effective teacher.
On behalf of the nation’s 50 million elementary and secondary students, we write to you with a sense of urgency about a critical issue that threatens the welfare of many of them.
We are deeply concerned about a provision inserted in H.R. 3082, the Continuing Resolution for government funding passed in December, which undermined the federal definition of a “highly qualified teacher” in the No Child Left Behind Act by allowing states to label teachers as “highly qualified” when they are still in training – and, in many cases, just beginning training – in alternative route programs.
This provision – inserted in the law without notice to concerned public stakeholders and without public debate – codifies a Bush-era regulation that was challenged by parents of low-income students of color in court because their children were disproportionately taught by such under-prepared teachers and because the regulation removed the obligation of states and districts to disclose and rectify the inequity.
The provision seeks to reverse the recent federal appeals court ruling these parents obtained, which held that the regulation patently violated NCLB’s unambiguous requirement that only fully prepared teachers be deemed “highly qualified” and that, as such, teachers still in-training must be publicly disclosed and not concentrated in low-income, high-minority schools.
Our concern with this provision (and with any federal policy that reinforces the unequal allocation of fully trained and certified teachers to all students) is that it disproportionately impacts our most vulnerable populations: low-income students and students of color, English language learners, and students with disabilities who are most often assigned such underprepared teachers.
Further, this provision hides this disparate reality from parents and the public by disingenuously labeling teachers-in-training as “highly qualified” and hindering advocacy for better prepared teachers.
Research confirms what logic and experience dictate: that teachers-in training are significantly less effective in supporting student achievement than those who are fully trained when they enter teaching, and that the negative effects are particularly pronounced for students whose success depends most acutely on fully-trained professionals.
We believe that students with the greatest needs should have the best-prepared and most effective teachers to support their success, and that pursuit of that goal should be the purpose of federal policy.
In the coming weeks, we will propose specific actions to the Administration and the Congress that can achieve this goal, including repeal of this provision and development of a transparent definition of teacher quality, along with a set of policies that will allow the nation to put a well-prepared and effective teacher in every classroom. We will work tirelessly and in concert to see that policy is enacted that will support high-quality teaching for every child.
Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment
Alliance for Multilingual Multicultural Education
American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education
American Association of State Colleges and Universities
American Federation of Teachers
Association of University Centers on Disabilities
Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Bay Area Parent Leadership Action Network
California Association for Bilingual Education
California Latino School Boards Association
Californians for Justice
Campaign for Fiscal Equity
Campaign for Quality Education
Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning
Center for Teaching Quality
Citizens for Effective Schools
Coalition for Educational Justice
Council for Exceptional Children
Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
ELC, Education Law Center
FairTest, The National Center for Fair & Open Testing
Higher Education Consortium for Special Education
Latino Elected and Appointed Officials National Taskforce on Education
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Learning Disabilities Association of America
Los Angeles Educational Partnership
Movement Strategy Center
National Alliance of Black School Educators
National Center for Learning Disabilities
National Council for Educating Black Children
National Council of Teachers of English
National Disability Rights Network
National Down Syndrome Congress
National Down Syndrome Society
National Education Association
National Latino/a Education Research and Policy Project
National League of United Latin American Citizens
Parents for Unity
Philadelphia Education Fund
Public Advocates Inc.
Public Education Network
Rural School and Community Trust
School Social Work Association of America
Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children
Texas Association for Chicanos and Higher Education
United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries
cc: Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, U.S. Department of Education