Teacher qualification requirements under ESSA cause challenges for small, rural schools

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, educators in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s rural and small schools may not meet new qualification requirements, and achieving them could be a challenge.

The 2015 reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act is leaving behind the expectation that teachers be “highly qualified” and shifts to an emphasis on endorsements and certifications, which could actually be more burdensome, according to Christine Ermold, director of Elementary Education and Professional Development for the school district.

“The reality is we aren’t going to get into a position where we say we have to close down the school or something crazy because we can’t find a person who actually has four licenses,” Ermold said. “What will happen is that we will end up then on our reports to the state we will have to say, ‘we have students who are being taught by teachers who do not hold credentials to teach them.’”

Under NCLB, a highly qualified teacher was defined as an employee who holds at least a bachelors degree, is fully certified or licensed by the state, and demonstrates competence in the core content areas that they teach, through various methods, and states were expected to be in 100 percent compliance of their educators meeting the criteria.

In the transition from NCLB to ESSA, major requirement revisions were made in the areas of assessments and standards, accountability, support systems and school improvement, which teacher qualifications fall under.

For large schools that have a budget for many staff, it is likely a teacher will have the necessary number of certifications or endorsements, made necessary by the ESSA, for each subject they teach if they are only teaching one or two. For small and rural school teachers, the change presents a problem.

Ermold explained it this way: a high school teacher has to be certified to legally teach, and have direct work experience in any single subject area, including the core content like math, English Language Arts and science, which is unusual. If they are currently practicing it isn’t easy to go and get another license, the shortest of which takes two years to complete, or endorsements, which are added to certifications and licenses by completing additional teaching programs, and must be filed for approval through the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.

For a small site like Hope School, which has two educators, it would be difficult to find someone to teach all core content subjects in high school or elementary school, and have endorsements to teach any elective courses, Ermold said.

“Most teachers have not been working toward licensure and endorsements across multiple content areas,” Ermold said.

Right now there are no known penalties in place for teachers or school districts that don’t meet the new set of requirements, Ermold said. Under NCLB, any dues were monetary, she said.

Sondra Meredith, administrator and director for teacher certification for the department of education, said she is not expecting any reprimands for the state’s school districts that are not 100 percent compliant.

“I won’t say they look bad, they are just going to honestly report the numbers of courses that the individuals (teaching) don’t necessarily have that back ground in,” Meredith said. “It won’t look fabulous for them, but there won’t be any penalty.”

School districts are already reporting their highly qualified employees on the School Report Card, which the state requires annually to receive funneled Title I monies, and is published on the department of education’s website, Meredith said.

The amount of Title I funds will not increase under the ESSA, but more of the existing funding is authorized for school improvement and supports, which means school districts can use more of those annual federal funds to help get their teachers where they need to be, she said. Some Title II funding can also be used for that purpose, she said.

It will be up to the individual school districts to encourage and facilitate professional development opportunities for their educators, Meredith said. School districts that are not 100 percent compliant will also likely have to show that they are taking steps to move in that direction, through hiring protocol and placing the staff in positions where they are most effective. At the same time, the state will try to ensure school districts know what resources are available, she said.

“I am hopeful it can just been seen as more about awareness and thinking hard about placement of teachers,” Meredith said.

Reach Kelly Sullivan at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com

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