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NCLB, ESSA, and “Highly Qualified”

December 5, 2015

In this post, I compare language regarding teacher certification in two documents, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) and what very likely will be the next Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) reauthorization, the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA).

I was particularly curious about the fate of the NCLB term, “highly qualified.”

Here we go:

In the 670-page No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), the term “highly qualified” appears 67 times excluding its usage as it is officially defined in NCLB as follows (page 535):

HIGHLY QUALIFIED.—The term ‘highly qualified’—
(A) when used with respect to any public elementary
school or secondary school teacher teaching in a State,
means that—

(i) the teacher has obtained full State certification
as a teacher (including certification obtained through
alternative routes to certification) or passed the State teacher licensing examination, and holds a license to teach in such State, except that when used with respect to any teacher teaching in a public charter school, the term means that the teacher meets the requirements set forth in the State’s public charter school law; and
(ii) the teacher has not had certification or licensure
requirements waived on an emergency, temporary,
or provisional basis;

(B) when used with respect to—

(i) an elementary school teacher who is new to
the profession, means that the teacher—

(I) holds at least a bachelor’s degree; and
(II) has demonstrated, by passing a rigorous
State test, subject knowledge and teaching skills in reading, writing, mathematics, and other areas of the basic elementary school curriculum (which may consist of passing a State-required certification or licensing test or tests in reading, writing, mathematics, and other areas of the basic elementary school curriculum); or

(ii) a middle or secondary school teacher who is
new to the profession, means that the teacher holds
at least a bachelor’s degree and has demonstrated a
high level of competency in each of the academic subjects in which the teacher teaches by—

(I) passing a rigorous State academic subject
test in each of the academic subjects in which
the teacher teaches (which may consist of a passing level of performance on a State-required certification or licensing test or tests in each of the academic subjects in which the teacher teaches); or
(II) successful completion, in each of the academic subjects in which the teacher teaches, of an academic major, a graduate degree, coursework equivalent to an undergraduate academic major, or advanced certification or credentialing; and

(C) when used with respect to an elementary, middle,
or secondary school teacher who is not new to the profession, means that the teacher holds at least a bachelor’s degree and—

(i) has met the applicable standard in clause (i)
or (ii) of subparagraph (B), which includes an option
for a test; or
(ii) demonstrates competence in all the academic
subjects in which the teacher teaches based on a high
objective uniform State standard of evaluation that—

(I) is set by the State for both grade appropriate
academic subject matter knowledge and
teaching skills;
(II) is aligned with challenging State academic
content and student academic achievement
standards and developed in consultation with core content specialists, teachers, principals, and school administrators;
(III) provides objective, coherent information
about the teacher’s attainment of core content
knowledge in the academic subjects in which a
teacher teaches;
(IV) is applied uniformly to all teachers in
the same academic subject and the same grade
level throughout the State;
(V) takes into consideration, but not be based
primarily on, the time the teacher has been
teaching in the academic subject;
(VI) is made available to the public upon
request; and
(VII) may involve multiple, objective measures
of teacher competency.

In the 1,061-page Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), the term “highly qualified” does not appear until page 576, where it is noted that the term, “highly qualified,” is to be replaced by the term, “effective.” (The same note is repeated on page 577.)

ESSA does have an entire section devoted to usage of the term, “highly qualified,” Section 9214, “Use of the Term ‘Highly Qualified’ in Other Laws” (page 973). The section reads pretty technical for all of notations for the NCLB lines requiring replacing of the term, “highly qualified,” so I will not post all 15 pages of the section. However, what it amounts to is that the term, “highly qualified” is to be redefined as follows:

Teachers who meet the applicable State certification and licensure requirements, including any requirements for certification obtained through alternative routes to certification, or, with regard to special education teachers, the qualifications described in section 612(a)(14)(C) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(14)(C).

What is interesting is that ESSA foregoes the NCLB language prohibiting emergency or provisional certification. In fact, ESSA does allow for provisional certification and the waiving of licensing criteria for states and schools receiving Title I funding (see page 143). Furthermore, it seems that provisional or emergency certification could be subsumed in “certification obtained through alternative routes.”

It appears to be up to states to decide to specify emergency or provisional certification as belonging under the heading of “alternative certification.”

In October 2013, Senator Harkin worked to include language into federal government debt legislation a provision that allowed teachers in training to be considered “highly qualified.” Such a provision was a gift to Teach for America (TFA), for it allowed TFAers with their five weeks of summer training to “highly qualify” to become full-fledged teachers under NCLB.

However, someone like 2014-15 Alabama Teacher of the Year Ann Marie Corgill, who had been teaching elementary school for over two decades, could not be allowed to teach in a Title-I-funded state under her National Board certification because Alabama does not count National Board certification as an “alternative” certification, nor could the state offer Corgill provisional status to teach fifth grade because such was expressly prohibited under NCLB.

The professional teaching world is on its head, my friends.

To bring it home: Under NCLB and additionally Harkin’s provision stealthily slipped into a debt bill and altering the definition of “highly qualified,” a five-week-trained TFAer is qualified to replace Corgill as a teacher in a state receiving Title I funding.

I’m sure that politicians like known TFA supporter Harkin are only thinking of the kids.

According to ESSA, the term “highly qualified” is nixed, which (assuming ESSA passes in the Senate) will kill the terms of the 2013 Harkin amendment to include “teachers in training” as eligible to teach in public schools in states receiving Title I funding. According to the new definition, those TFAers will need to meet requirements set forth by the state for certification.

The twist is that it is up to states to determine teacher certification requirements– which means that TFA-friendly states could surely still cater to TFA in the setting of certification requirements. (After all, there is the possibility of states’ employing teachers whose licensing requirements have been waived– a five-week-trained, TFA open door….)

Note also that NCLB potentially separated charter school teacher certification from that of traditional public school teacher certification. Such could still be the case in ESSA; note that ESSA wants to guarantee that states “maximize flexibility” provided to charter schools (see page 543).

One last point:

In general, ESSA does not allow emergency, temporary, or provisional special education certification– but it does allow for special education teachers at charter schools to meet different requirements from those of special education teachers in traditional public schools “as set forth in the State’s public charter school law” (page 985). This federal, charter-school-favoring exception is an open door for danger and incompetence in serving special education students in charter schools.

Of course, given that ESSA continues to promote the now-status-quo idea that ever-higher test scores are the centerpiece of contemporary public education, charter schools are less likely to try to serve students with special needs. Still, the special needs students who are served in charter schools should be served competently. For all of its 1,061 pages, ESSA fails to guarantee as much.

upside down house


Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published in June 2015.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published in June 2015.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

  1. Jake Jacobs permalink

    We also shouldn’t forget that TFA deliberately grooms certain teachers to abandon teaching real kids and instead work on Capitol Hill on the staffs of these Senators and Congress members, specifically to shape policy. They are provided free to the lawmakers with their salaries picked up by TFA, which has resulted in deep penetration in the halls of power.

    This previously unknown program was only discovered by BATs after requesting in-person meetings with Senators and Reps to discuss the NCLB reauthorization Bill, but ending up talking to these staffers instead. Comparing notes at the DC conference, the BATs saw how often it happened that the staffer was a TFA alum and eventually discovered the page for their Capitol Hill/TFA Internship program, where inexperienced teachers are paid for a year to work free for Congress and then encouraged to pursue careers in policy. (Has the AFT or NEA ever thought about doing this?)

    With all these “Grimer Wormtongues” in place, it’s easy to see how TFA friendly policy is crafted, and how lobbying by proven, experienced teachers like BATs would be ignored or diminished. The same can be said for the pro-charter carve outs, where millions spent in lobbying, media manipulation and campaign contributions reliably pay dividends for the hedgefund-powered charter movement.

    So until someone or something addresses the ills of campaign finance reform, domestic propaganda (the ability to legally lie and deceive in the media) and the infamous corporate-government revolving door, we will continue to see taxpayer rip offs and harmful education policies under Democrats and Republicans alike.

  2. anonymous permalink

    So, does this mean no more keeping track of CLUs?

    There must be some motive (I hate to sound like that) to channel professional development money to corporate interests to get that combination of language in this bill.

    We will have to watch this new BESE board closely, to see what they have up their sleeves. They already approved questionable training for those alt certs. Maybe they’ll come up with a list of preferred vendors or mandated workshops. Because, you know, we lazy teachers only improve if you force us. And we don’t have any effective or qualified teachers in-house to guide us, none in the district or apparently the state department, so that means more out-of-state contracts. (I know John Bel said otherwise, but his influence has yet to be seen.)

    BESE can also tweak the cert process how they like, and the trend has been to get more specified. Is Praxis designing teacher tests per grade level? Insane.

  3. Is there a list of states friends to TFA recruits?

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Open Message to California Senators – Save us from the New ESEA | tultican
  2. The Disturbing Action Alert from Michael Mulgrew « Movement of Rank and File Educators
  3. Mercedes Schneider: What ESSA Says About “Highly Qualified” Teachers | Diane Ravitch's blog
  4. ESSAy #2: Teacher qualifications | bloghaunter
  5. VLCs: Beyond Digital Strip Malls - Center for Teaching Quality #CTQCollab

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