(Updated with House subcommitte vote)
Should someone with five weeks of teacher training be considered a highly qualified teacher?
A U.S. House appropriations subcommittee approved legislation on Wednesday that extended for two more years the federal definition of a highly qualified teacher as including students still learning to be teachers and other people with very little training.
The nonprofit organization Teach for America places college graduates into high needs schools after giving them five weeks of training in a summer institute. The TFA corps members, who are required to give only a two-year commitment to teaching, can continue a master’s degree in education with selected schools while teaching.
Of course it doesn’t make any real sense that a new college graduate with five weeks of ed training or any student teacher should be considered highly qualified — because they aren’t. But federalofficials inexplicably partial to Teach for America have bestowed millions of dollars on the organization, and TFA has, not surprisingly, lobbied Congress for this legislation.
The reality is that teachers still in training are disproportionately concentrated in schools serving low-income students and students of color — the children who need the best teachers. This inequitable distribution disproportionately affects students with disabilities.
The satirical newspaper, the Onion, has a funny piece on Teach for America. The first part is ostensibly from a new college graduate who supposedly writes:
When I graduated college last year, I was certain I wanted to make a real difference in the world. After 17 years of education, I felt an obligation to share my knowledge and skills with those who needed it most.
After this past year, I believe I did just that. Working as a volunteer teacher helped me reach out to a new generation of underprivileged children in dire need of real guidance and care. Most of these kids had been abandoned by the system and, in some cases, even by their families, making me the only person who could really lead them through the turmoil....
The second part is supposedly written by a young student who had a Teach for America teacher:
You’ve got to be kidding me. How does this keep happening? I realize that as a fourth-grader I probably don’t have the best handle on the financial situation of my school district, but dealing with a new fresh-faced college graduate who doesn’t know what he or she is doing year after year is growing just a little bit tiresome. Seriously, can we get an actual teacher in here sometime in the next decade, please? That would be terrific.
Just once, it would be nice to walk into a classroom and see a teacher who has a real, honest-to-God degree in education and not a twentysomething English graduate trying to bolster a middling GPA and a sparse law school application. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a qualified educator who has experience standing up in front of a classroom and isn’t desperately trying to prove to herself that she’s a good person...
In 2010, Congress approved legislation that defined “highly qualified teachers” as including students still in teacher training programs. There is an effort now among supporters to keep that definition on the books — even though the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals twice ruled that it violated No Child Left Behind because it did not fully meet a credential standard set in that law.
Last month the Senate Appropriations Committee was on its way to extending the federal definition but, after some protest, decided not to. Still there is support in the Senate to do so.
The House Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday approved legislation that would eliminate most of the funding for President Obama’s Race to the Top and other education programs — and would allow teachers in training to be considered highly qualified teachers through the 2014-15 school year.
The Obama administration has given waivers to more than half of the states, which allows them to ignore major parts of NCLB. That includes the highly qualified teacher provision, if they include student achievement in teacher evaluations.
However, there are other federal education funds, such as Title 1, tied to a highly qualified teacher provision.
Bottom line: The issue isn’t over.
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