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It’s A Kind of Magic

Evidently Oregon has many more good teachers this year than they did last year. More than 94% of their elementary school teachers are "highly qualified", with 80% of those in middle school classrooms and 90% of those in high school falling in that category. So, why has there been such a big improvement in one year?

Those who follow teacher licensing in Oregon said most of the change was due to teachers documenting what they already had learned. Teachers pulled out old college transcripts or subject scores on teacher exams they’d taken in the past.

But some teachers scrambled to take additional college courses or to hit the books to prepare for tough national exams.

"Our teachers did what they needed to do," said Holly Lekas, administrator for certified staff in Beaverton schools where the share of middle- and high-school classes taught by highly qualified teachers surged past 90 percent in 2004.

Oregon, as are most other states, is scrambling to get those numbers up to 100% by 2006. According to the No Child Left Behind law, by that fall every child must have a "highly qualified" teacher in their classroom. However, NCLB leaves the definition of "highly qualified" up to each state and Oregon, also like most other states, sets the bar for that rating rather low.

The way Oregon instituted the federal law, middle- and high-school teachers have two options to show they are highly qualified in their fields: Pass enough college courses in that subject or a nationally standardized exam in the field. Elementary teachers prove they are highly qualified by earning full state certification.

Please don’t take this as a criticism of Oregon teachers. My objections come largely from the inconsistencies of NCLB and the semantics of the law. Just having “enough college courses” on the transcript does not make a “highly qualified” teacher. Holding a “full state certification” is minimally qualified not highly. And it’s hardly a national standard if you let 51 different jurisdictions (don’t forget DC) decide what the term means.

However, NCLB and it’s supporters would like everyone to think that we can magically improve teacher quality by shuffling around a few papers. "Highly qualified" teachers develop through practice, study, and continual professional growth. They have many more skills than just being subject-area experts and they don’t magically appear out of college or after passing a standardized test.

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2 Comments

  1. My mother has thirty years of experience in the classroom and truly is a master teacher will not be considered fully qualified by New Jersey. She could take a course or two to get the certification, but she refuses, and she’s retiring instead.

  2. Good post.

    The vagueness of the ‘highly qualified teacher’ is a good example of a state vs. federal control compromise that doesn’t make much sense and leads to remarkably ineffective policy.

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