Michelle Diament writes at Disability Scoop:
It doesn’t take much to be deemed a “highly qualified” teacher under federal law. Now, disability advocates are asking Congress to raise the bar.Education Week offers more background:
Currently, teachers who are still working on their certification through an alternative training program like Teach for America are able to gain the “highly qualified” label.
The U.S. Senate is considering renewing a provision allowing these classroom rookies to retain the highly qualified designation but advocates from several national disability groups are asking them not to.
In a letter to leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee this week, advocates said the practice is having a disproportionately negative impact on students with disabilities.
In essence, the provision allows teachers still working on their certification to be considered "highly qualified"—a designation created by 2001's No Child Left Behind law. The law says teachers must already be certified to qualify, but Education Department regulations created about the law allowed for teachers in alternative routes to be considered highly qualified, even if they were still working on their certification. For example, people in the classroom as part of the Teach for America training program would fall into this category.
An appeals judge sided with a group of parents and advocacy groups in a California lawsuit against the federal Education Department over the alternate path to being a highly qualified teacher. The court found that the Bush administration's 2002 regulation on highly qualified teachers improperly broadened the No Child Left Behind statute by allowing alternative-route teachers to circumvent the definition. The statute requires highly qualified teachers to hold full certification, while the regulations permits teachers in alternative routes to be considered HQ, even without certification, if they are making progress in their programs.
But a Senate provision tucked into a previous budget bill rendered the court ruling moot, legitimizing the highly qualified label for teachers on a path to certification.
The National Center on Learning Disabilities—which is urging calls to senators to ensure the provision is killed—notes that students with disabilities, English-language learners, poor students, and students of color are the ones most likely to be taught by uncertified teachers.