State seeks to throw out "highly qualified" teacher requirements

The State Board of Education wants to repeal the requirement that all teachers be highly qualified.

 

It is the first step to align Alaska’s policies that prove educators are equipped to instruct in their content areas with new regulations set forth in the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, the 2015 reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act.

“We agreed to the concept but didn’t really imagine the amount of work that it was going to take folks to comply the way we went about it,” said Sondra Meredith, administrator of teacher education and certification for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development. “It was very burdensome for the school districts. I think the districts will be very relieved that this is no longer a requirement.”

The state board is pursuing repeal because reaching highly qualified status is no longer required of states under the ESSA. The U.S. Department of Education defines highly qualified teachers as those that have a bachelor’s degree, full state certification or licensure and can “prove that they know what subject they teach.”

The original directive was “rudimentary framework,” Meredith said.

States were left to develop the pathways their educators would take to meet No Child Left Behind requirements, which were expected to be fully met by the 2005–2006 school year. Before the cutoff, the U.S. Department of Education offered up some flexibility, acknowledging that the highly qualified prerequisites posed greater challenges for some teachers more than others.

In rural school districts, which make up roughly one-third of all U.S. school districts, educators are frequently expected to instruct multiple content areas, often times without being certified in more than one, according to the U.S. Department of Education. One flexibility allowed rural teachers an additional three years to become highly qualified in any additional subjects.

While structuring and keeping track of highly qualified pathways has been demanding, the process has highlighted the importance of ensuring educators have been placed in the best position for their skill set, Meredith said. Alaska has never reached 100 percent, but it went from having one of the lowest rates of highly qualified teachers in the nation, to being nearly 90 percent in compliance, she said.

The state has developed eight different pathways teachers can take to become highly qualified, including tests and securing endorsements, Meredith said. Highly qualified is not required for subjects like physical education, which are considered separate from core content areas, she said.

However, some options do not always guarantee an educator is well prepared, and it added extra loads of paper work for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Human Resources Department, said Christine Ermold, the director of Elementary Education and Professional Development for the school district.

“It became this extra series of hoops to jump through,” Ermold said. “Just the process of becoming highly qualified did not impact teacher quality in any way shape or form.”

The new regulations shift to endorsements and certifications, which Ermold said in a previous Clarion interview has the potential to be even more burdensome. Additionally, the new terms the states will be required to define while reporting the standards of the school district’s hired teachers, again with minimal direction from the federal government, tends to focus more on what is going wrong in a school district, not on what is being done well, she said.

For example, school districts will be required to report the number of inexperienced educators they have hired, Ermold said. It may be important that the state clearly define an inexperienced teacher as one who is in their first two years of teaching, she said.

“I understand that in other parts of our nation we have public education systems that have unraveled, and that are in substantial need of rebuilding, but in our case, we are in a very different place,” Ermold said. “Once again, we have landed in a spot where what might be appropriate for one place is not necessarily appropriate for Alaska.”

School district administrators will provide feedback to the state throughout the repeal process, as they did during development of the highly qualified requirements, and as legislation is developed to build compliance with the ESSA, Ermold said.

Meredith said it is also important to note the state also proposes to repeal Alaska statute relating to retired teachers acting as long-term substitutes and temporary employees possessing Alaska teacher certificates.

Public comments regarding the repeals can be made to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development’s Commissioners office until 4:30 p.m., Aug. 15.

Reach Kelly Sullivan at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com.

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