Friday, May 12, 2006

Washington Bashing in the Educaton Gadfly

Over in this week's Education Gadfly column there's a guest commentary by Phyllis McClure on the Highly Qualified requirements in the NCLB act. Her point is that many states have been playing fast and loose with the law; in regards to Washington State she says this:

The three states reporting the highest percentage of highly qualified teachers were, not surprisingly, among the worst offenders. For example, Washington state claimed that 99 percent of all its teachers were highly qualified. But when Education Department monitors showed up in May 2005, they quickly saw why that figure was so high. The state incorrectly recognized as highly qualified any teacher with an elementary or special education degree.

I went to a training on Highly Qualified teachers at the local Uniserv office a couple of weeks ago, and here the problem is not the HOUSSE standards that Washington established, but the nonsensical nature of the law. To be a highly qualified special ed teacher you have to be highly qualified to teach every area that you provide services in; for example, math and reading and writing. To be HQ in Washington now you have to have an endorsement or enough credits to put you over the top on the 8 page (I'm not making that up) rubric that you can go through to see what you're highly qualified in.

The part about elementary education teachers is also nonsense. Here Ms. McClure is drawing a fine line between an endorsement and a degree; anyone with an elementary (K-8) endorsement is *automatically* HQ to teach in the elementary grades, though the picture does get more muddied in the middle (7-8) grades. The point is that there's quite a bit of nuance involved; she just chooses to ignore it for the sake of good reading.

Plus, now that the PRAXIS is required, everyone will he HQ anyway by virtue of passing the test. Yay?

Later on she throws in:

It is entirely possible that Washington, Connecticut, Minnesota, and the other states that reported bogus numbers will ultimately prove to the Education Department that their teachers meet the federal requirements for highly certified. But we can’t count on their word alone. They’ve been consciously providing misleading data to the public for years.

The lady that I met with seemed sincere in her desire to meet the law. In my area alone there have been 5 trainings in the last month to communicate the new standards. Suggesting that OSPI has been deliberately mishonest about the HQ data is a pretty awful leap to make, and shame on Ms. McClure for doing it.

Two other sections that should be addressed:

And every state considered middle and high school history teachers highly qualified if they were licensed in the field of social studies rather than in history itself, as the law demands.

OK, but is this a reasonable demand? NCLB doesn't recognize the field of social studies; rather, it splits social studies up into economics, history, civics, and geography. So a degree in social studies doesn't qualify you to teach civics; what it does do is give you quite a few point (80) towards the 100 you need to meet the HOUSSE requirements.

The question is, why did the feds parse out the social studies into so many different areas? Social studies isn't a tested area under NCLB, yet it gets more attention (measured as a function of areas under the HQ requirements) than both math and reading.

Last thought:

Also, securing high quality teachers—especially in high poverty, high minority schools—is difficult. But it’s essential if we’re to improve student academic achievement.

Sadly, highly qualified doesn't mean good. The entire provision is a feel-good dodge that means nothing either positively ("All of our teachers are highly qualified! Hooray!") or negatively ("None of our teachers are highly qualified! We suck!"). The only measure that matters is student achievement, not degrees, not certifications, not endorsements, which makes the insane amount of effort being poured into HQ a lot of effort for very little cause.

1 Comments:

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4:57 AM  

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