Highly forgiving

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Hardly blind to the political minefield that lay ahead, Spellings & Co. have told state education officials that they will have an extra year to put a highly qualified teacher in every classroom. The Department was facing the prospect of either meting out fines to dozens of states or negotiating waiver after waiver--and then getting accused by self-righteous groups like ours of having no backbone. While this action might suggest some degree of scoliosis, the Department insists that the deadline still stands. It's just that states that seem to be really, really trying won't get in any trouble if they miss the deadline. That kind of Clintonesque double speak begs the question, just what is a deadline?

And what does a state have to do to show that it's 'really, really trying?'

* The state's definition of a highly qualified teacher has to be found consistent with the law (if the Feds consider HOUSSE routes, a lot of states may be in trouble; read more here).

* Parents need to be notified if their child isn't assigned to a highly qualified teacher;

* The HQT data reported to the feds needs to be complete and accurate (there actually have been some improvements since the fantasy numbers turned in two years ago);

* The state has taken steps towards ensuring equitable distribution of experienced and qualified teachers among poor and minority schools.

It's encouraging to see this last measure receive some prominent attention, as strangely enough, it is an NCLB provision that has been largely ignored. Also, how the enforcement of this provision ends up playing out, given the constraints of collective bargaining agreements (allowing teachers with seniority first cut at openings in better schools) remains to be seen. If the recent New York agreement is any indication, the time may be ripe for reforming transfer policies.

If the Department really wants to seize the moment, it should put states on notice that it will be looking for evidence of reform-minded policy changes as part of the required "good faith" effort. These could include such things as reducing barriers to the profession, embracing alternate routes, and undertaking meaningful experiments with differential, merit and hardship pay.