States Fudge Figures on HQT (An Update)

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In the October 31, 2003, Teacher Quality Bulletin, we reported on the wide range of highly qualified teachers that states were reporting to the US Department of Education ranging from 99% in Wisconsin to 16% in Alaska. We predicted that the numbers would not stand up to scrutiny and it didn't take long for our prognostication to be borne out (although we'll allow that that doesn t make us rocket scientists.)

Wisconsin's report of 99% highly qualified teachers was especially curious. What could the rest of the country do to be more like Wisconsin? It turns out that Wisconsin played fast and loose with the definitions--a fiction their own teachers were quick to reveal. Four percent of the state's teachers are on emergency certification; high school teachers are allowed to teach while possessing minors; and middle school teachers can teach with a generalist rather than subject area license. All of these things are no-no's according to NCLB's highly qualified teacher provision.

This is not to say that the new reporting requirements are altogether a waste of time. Consider Alabama, for instance. Alabama reported only 35% highly qualified teachers, albeit on the basis of an incomplete count. Now Alabama is seeing this as a wake-up call and allowing teachers to take the Praxis test on a voluntary basis and only in order to prove highly qualified status. The state had been operating under a court order prohibiting teachers from being tested. The introduction of more information, more transparency, and more teacher testing is a hopeful sign.

Unlike the "highly qualified" Wisconsin or the more "lowly qualified" Alabama, New Jersey was one of 11 states that missed the deadline to submit its count of highly qualified teachers. At last week's New Jersey Education Association convention, complaints about the highly qualified provision were numerous and allegations about the federal requirement ranged from "confusing" to "insulting." Nevertheless, Richard Ten Eyck, assistant commissioner of education, insists that at least 80% of Garden State teachers will be deemed highly qualified, with the remaining comprised of middle school instructors who lack subject area certification.

There are some efforts at solutions on the horizon. Last month in Congress, representative Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) and Tom Osborne (R-NE) introduced the "I Teach" bill, which will provide monetary incentives for highly qualified teachers to move to hard-to-staff rural districts.