When is "Highly Qualified" Not?

Part of the No Child Left Behind (NLCB) legislation is the requirement that every child have a "highly qualified teacher". You would think that Congress in it’s wisdom(?) would have specified in the law exactly what they meant by that phrase but instead they left it up to the states to decide. So we get 51 definitions, undoubtedly with slightly different words and meanings.

In Virginia, where I live and work, the state Department of Education (pdf) says that a highly qualified teacher "holds a full licensure as a teacher" and "teaches only in the area of endorsement". For those of you not fluent in educationese, this means in Virginia I’m considered "highly qualified" to teach if I have lots of credits in the subject I’m teaching, I only teach that subject, and I’ve passed a standardized test for teachers called Praxis (from the fine folks who bring you the SAT), which is required for full licensure.

Buzz! Sorry! Good try! Pick up your parting gifts! That is NOT the definition of "highly qualified". That is the definition of minimally qualified. A highly qualified teacher is so much more.

Cursive! Foiled Again!

My handwriting sucks. There’s just no other way to put it. In fact, when I do use a pen the result is more printing than writing, and not very good printing at that. I used to have good handwriting; my mother even saved the certificate to prove it. But over the last ten years or so as I’ve done more and more of my work on computer, the handwriting skills have gone down the toilet.

All this means that I have something in common with the elementary kids in this CNN article. It seems they prefer to type messages on the computer rather than write them with a pencil. And, as with all such things, someone is worried about the trend (in this case, parents, educators and historians) and is looking for ways to fix it. I wonder if, in the Star Trek future when computers can fully understand human speech, someone will worry about the loss of typing skills.

NCLB: Carrot and Stick and Stick and Stick

With all the talk about the war for Cheney’s Filling Station in Iraq and other foreign intrigue, not many people outside of the public schools remember much about the disaster in the making called No Child Left Behind (NCLB). When it was first being proposed I didn’t pay much attention myself. I’m old enough to have seen five or six presidents declare themselves to be the "education president", pass a few bills that created little meaningful change, and then move on to stuff the polls actually cared about. The one common trait of all these federal "reform" efforts was the carrot and stick approach they took to force states and school districts to do their bidding. The carrot, of course, was always money and the stick was not sending money. But NCLB is different.

In addition to the stick of denying money, NCLB will also slap a Scarlet Letter* (probably an F) on all the schools and districts that don’t meet the "standards" approved by the feds. The result of a school being declared a failure, of course, will be a lot of parents lined up at the door demanding that their kids be moved to another school. Or that they be given vouchers to take their kids to a private school. Or that they get tax breaks to home school their kids. Or that they get money to start a charter school. Or any alternative to leaving their kids in public schools.

To my warped little conspiratorial mind that’s the underlying point of NCLB. Bush and his friends want to promote an alternative to the public school system, paid for by the public. There’s nothing wrong with the first part of that sentence (having an alternative), it’s the last part that bothers me. I still believe that a strong public education system, open to everyone, is as essential to a democracy as free speech and a free press. There are many things wrong with the system we have now and it needs a major overhaul. But tearing it apart and scattering the pieces is not the solution and should not be an option.

*This link has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand. It goes to a musical production of the book written by some friends.

Who’s In Charge of Network Names?

I was thumbing through the channels taking in 5 second bits of TV (57 channels? Sorry, Bruce. Try 200 – and still nothing on) when I came across Star Trek: The Next Generation. I was never a huge fan of the series – Deep Space Nine was better – but if I run across the show I’ll stop long enough to see if it’s an interesting episode, mostly Q or Borg episodes.

What caught my eye at this particular stop, however, was an ad for the network carrying the show. Evidently TNN (wasn’t that the Nashville Network once upon a time?) is now going to be called Spike TV. Are they now going to show nothing but James Marsters episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? The only other Spike that comes to my warped little mind mind is the bulldog from a classic Chuck Jones cartoon (or the cheezy bulldog created by Hanna-Barbara when they worked for MGM’s poor imitation of Warner Brothers animation unit). I gather the name Spike TV was chosen to go with the tag line – "The First Network for Men". Funny, I thought that was ESPN.

Now that I’ve OD’d on trivia, I’m going to check my email and go to bed.

A Few Odd Ends

Three articles that caught my eye this weekend.

Education Department pulls summer reading list – It seems as if the list had quite a few spelling errors. Plus librarians called the list out of date. Considering the current administration, I’ll bet most of the books could be found on the shelf in Beaver’s classroom.

Online Master’s Program For Teachers Shows Promise – While many colleges and universities offer online classes and degrees, few have “taken a stab at scientifically documenting their effectiveness”. This story is about one that has. (free registration required)

Public School Teachers Are Paid Enough – As I said on Wednesday, take a look at who’s paying the bills for any poll or survey. The study that’s the subject of this article comes from The Hoover Institution, “a conservative-leaning think tank”. More friends of our “education president”.