Teacher Competency Requirements
This article focuses on teacher competency testing and requirements, as well as how the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 has affected teacher requirements for both new and current teachers. The concept of Highly Qualified Teacher is explored and evaluated, including the many interpretations and expectations for ascertaining Highly Qualified status. Examples of state requirements and some of the challenges they are facing are also included.
Keywords Highly Qualified Teachers; HOUSSE Provision; No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB); Praxis; State Requirements; Teacher Accountability; Teacher Certification
Teacher certification has its roots in the 1800s when schools of education programs and teacher preparation were different for rural communities than for cities and towns. Although professional educators felt that all teachers should be prepared through formal training programs and be certified to teach, the general public was not in agreement. Rural communities tended to believe that good teachers are born and not made and that only a minimum of formal training in pedagogy was necessary to be an effective teacher. People who resided in cities and towns were likely to prefer that their teachers have formal training and credentials. During the early 1900s to about 1930, professional educators gained more control over the nation's schools and the licensing of teachers. Local communities slowly lost the ability to determine for themselves who could teach in their classrooms. Formal university-based education requirements for teaching replaced old certification exams, which professional educators considered inferior.
In the late 1950s, the teacher preparation system was being criticized again for its low standards of entry and exit, the overemphasis on pedagogy rather than subject mastery, the lack of a professional knowledge base, and the lack of reliable data that showed teacher training actually had a positive relationship to effective classroom teaching. By about 1975, many people both in the profession and the general public doubted the effectiveness of teacher certification and training (Angus, 2001). With the advent of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), certification and teacher competence have come to the forefront once again with many entities trying to gain control over the preparation and licensure of teachers so that there is some cohesion within the United States. NCLB has brought about even more change as to what constitutes a qualified teacher and how new teachers are being vetted before attaining more permanent certification.
No Child Left Behind Act of 2001
The No Child Left Behind Act requires states to measure the extent to which all students (particularly minority and disadvantaged students) to have "highly qualified teachers." It also requires states to adopt goals that will make sure all instructors are qualified enough to meet teacher quality goals (U.S. Department of Education, 2004).
Under the No Child Left Behind Act, states had until the 2005-2006 school year to ensure that their teachers were designated as highly qualified. This caused states and teachers to debate what exactly was meant by "highly qualified" and what needed to be done to comply with the law. According to the law, to be “deemed highly qualified, teachers must have a bachelor's degree, full state certification or licensure, and must prove that they know each subject they teach. Teachers in middle school and high school must prove that they know each subject they teach by having one of the following” (U.S. Department of Education, 2004, p. 2):
• A major in the subject they teach
• Credits equivalent to a major in the subject they teach
• Passage of a state-developed competency test
• High, objective, uniform state standard of evaluation (Housse)
• An advanced certification from the state
• A graduate degree (U.S. Department of Education, 2004, p. 2)
High, Objective, Uniform State Standard of Evaluation lets states develop another method for current teachers to show their adequacy and fulfill the necessary requirements in regards to their subject interest. Only those teachers employed by 2002 may use the HOUSSE provision to prove they know the subjects they teach. “Proof may consist of a combination of teaching experience, professional development, and knowledge in the subject garnered over time in the profession” (U.S. Department of Education, 2004, p. 2). However, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings ruled in late 2005 that states may avoid the punitive loss of funding for another year if they were making good-faith efforts to comply with this provision of the law (Keller, 2006).
The U.S. Department of Education found that a common theme was emerging from their visits with teachers and state and local officials across the country. The Department felt that states were not taking full advantage of the flexibility, in both requirements and funding, that were already at their disposal. The HOUSSE provision means that No Child Left Behind does not require current instructors to attend a higher educational institution to obtain a degree in each and every subject they are otherwise qualified to teach. The Department informed states that they “have the authority to define which grades constitute elementary and middle school and may determine, by reviewing the degree of technicality of the subject matter being taught and the rigor of knowledge needed by the teacher, whether demonstrating competency as an elementary or as a middle-school teacher is appropriate. States may also approve rigorous content-area assessments that are developed specifically for middle-school teachers aligned with middle-school content and academic standards. NCLB provides flexibility in developing assessments for teachers to demonstrate subject-matter competency because states may tailor teacher tests to the subjects and level of knowledge needed for effective instruction to meet state standards” (U.S. Department of Education, 2004, p. 2).
requirements for instructors who are highly qualified: “apply only to teachers providing direct instruction in core academic subjects. Special educators who do not directly instruct students in core academic subjects or who provide only consultation to highly qualified teachers in adapting curricula do not need to demonstrate subject-matter competency in those subjects. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Congress, in the context of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), is considering modifying how the highly qualified teacher provision of No Child Left Behind applies to special education teachers” (U.S. Department of Education, 2004, p. 2).
In 2004, the Department of Education instituted more flexibility to help states comply with the No Child Left Behind Act by addressing concerns of rural school districts, science teachers, and multi-subject teachers. Approximately one third of all school districts in the United States are considered rural, and the concern of these districts was that No Child Left Behind did not properly cater to the special demands that teachers face in rural schools because many rural instructors must educate children on more than one topic. The added adaptability was intended to give more time to teachers to prove that “they are highly qualified by allowing teachers in eligible, rural districts who are highly qualified in at least one subject to have three years to become highly qualified in the additional subjects they teach. Teachers who fall under this designation must be provided professional development and intense supervision or structured mentoring to become highly qualified in those additional subjects” (U.S. Department of Education, 2004, p. 1).
Science teachers are often the instructors of several fields of science. In some states, a teacher can have a degree in a general science subject rather than a specific physics or biology degree. This helps to not limit the teachers in the subjects they are qualified enough to instruct. Therefore, the Department of Education decided that states may decide - based on their current certification requirements - to allow teachers of science to prove that they are able to teach effectively the subjects of one or more fields of science. Current multi-subject teachers aren’t required to obtain a degree or certificate in every instructable subject, but rather they can utilize their knowledge base of a broad field of education to instruct their students adequately. All current teachers may use the HOUSSE provision as determined by each state, but: “for some multi-subject teachers this alternate process could become protracted and repetitive as they go through the HOUSSE process for each subject they teach. Therefore, under the new guidelines, states may streamline the HOUSSE evaluation process by developing a method for current, multi-subject teachers to demonstrate through one process that they are highly qualified in each of their subjects” (U.S. Department of Education, 2004, p. 1).
Even with the increased flexibility and further clarification of the NCLB's provisions, states are still not completely meeting the requirements of the federal law. The Department of Education...
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