Inside The Law
New Teacher Certification Program Angers NEA
In spite of overwhelming agreement about the objective of the No Child Left Behind law to put a highly qualified teacher in every classroom, there is debate about whether the Bush administration's approach will work.
"The federal government is saying on one hand we are going to hold teachers to higher standards and, on the other hand, we are going to set up a system where teachers don't have to spend a minute in the classroom. It's a slap in the face of everything we know of what is needed to make a teacher highly qualified," says Dan Kaufman, spokesman for the National Education Association. Kaufman is referring to the new Passport to Teaching fast track certification, which emphasizes subject expertise more than pedagogical methods.
The computer-based Passport to Teaching certification from the American Board of Teacher Certification Excellence requires no coursework or class experience and is aimed at those with a bachelor's degree interested in teaching. Pennsylvania, Idaho and Florida have approved the program and offer the certification option as an alternative to the traditional certification method. At a cost of $500, a prospective teacher, whose preparation method and pace is at their discretion, must pass at least one subject area exam in elementary education, or mathematics (6-12), or English (6-12) as well as pass a subject teaching knowledge exam for certification. The teaching knowledge exam, which assesses the candidate's proficiency in teaching, covers such areas as effective instructional delivery and classroom management and organization. Although opponents see the certification program as merely passing a standardized test, Buffy Debreaux-Watts, the ABTCE marketing director, claims that it's more than that. "It serves as a yardstick that measures an individual's knowledge base and competency," she says.
The ABTCE claims its standards meet the federal government's designation of identifying highly qualified teachers and allocating them into classrooms by emphasizing subject matter expertise and, according to Debreaux-Watts, "by bringing a subject matter expert to the classroom where it is most needed and employed."
Those who oppose the ABTCE approach say subject matter expertise is only one of several skills of a high quality teacher. Although passing a rigorous test is necessary, it's not necessarily sufficient. Kaufman adds that using a shortcut like the computer-based test only exasperates the problem of attracting qualified teachers and "a most highly qualified teacher should combine formal training and certification with class experience and this [Passport to Teaching] is a step backwards. ... This shortcut is an ideological attack on ways to attract qualified teachers. "
New Format will Help Handicapped Materials be Ready Sooner
Students with visual disabilities are already at a disadvantage, but their problems are exacerbated because they often receive special resources like Braille and electronic books late.
Students who are blind or have print disabilities such as dyslexia, use electronic resources and computer software rather than traditional textbooks. The main barrier delaying the arrival of alternative resources is the numerous file formats, like PDF and Microsoft Word, into which published books can be transformed.
In response to this and NCLB, the U.S. Department of Education created a voluntary nationwide format standard, called the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard. It will distribute modern digital materials, including Braille textbooks, electronic textbooks to which students can listen, and files to enlarge print for students with low vision.
"We would hope that once this is implemented, students will get what they need at the beginning of the school year," says Stephanie Lee, director of the DOE's Office of Special Education Programs. "The standard is part of an overall effort to make sure every child has the opportunity for a quality education."
NIMAS will be available for the 2004 school year, but it is up to each state to decide to adopt it. Districts should save money under NIMAS, Lee says, because now teachers can spend hours scanning textbooks to distribute to students with disabilities.
A colorful map of the U.S. shows that five states have met or are partially meeting all 40 requirements under the No Child Left Behind law, as of last March.
The study of NCLB, conducted by Education Commission of the States, shows that improvements are prevalent as are continuing challenges.
In the ECS Report to the Nation: State Implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, every state meets or is partially meeting half of the NCLB requirements, an increase of 11 percent since March 2003. And all but two states and the District of Columbia have met or is partially meeting 75 percent of the requirements, which is a 109 percent increase from March 2003.
Windy City Uses Fliers and Radio Ads for Tutoring
Employees at Chicago Public Schools walked the walk, handing out fliers and airing radio ads throughout the city in August to encourage parents to register for free tutoring this school year.
Officials hope to tutor 97,000 Chicago students in 360 schools that are struggling under the federal No Child Left Behind act, which guarantees free help to low-income students at schools deemed as needing improvement. The city school system has about $37 million in federal funds to tutor the students. Roughly 270,000 city students are eligible to get tutoring under the law, but officials say they don't have enough money to serve all the students.
Tutoring is to start in October, running two to four hours per week for 20 weeks.
Left for Academic Doom, Teen Proves the Experts Wrong
This is part of a series to follow four students across the nation and report on their progress or lack thereof in meeting the requirements of NCLB.
In sixth grade, Joshua Wing, now 14, was a lackluster student. Hindered by a learning disability and lack of motivation, Joshua was reading at a third-grade level.
"When we met in sixth grade, Josh was a little shy. He has really blossomed over the past year," says Elvira Randle, his former language arts teacher at Argentine Middle School in Kansas City, Kan.
In just over a year's time Joshua has undergone a remarkable academic transformation. He is now reading on grade level and is part of the school's Challenger program for advanced students--a far cry since his parents were informed that because of his difficulties reading, Joshua would never succeed in school.
"I am very proud of myself. I can do stuff now that I could never do before," Joshua says.
Josh is studying hours every night and staying after school for extra help. "I started thinking about things, and I didn't want to mess this up," Joshua says of his grades.
Randle used the Scholastic Read 180 program to help Josh. READ 180 is an integrated reading program, where students work in small groups with the teacher. A voice recognition program on the computer informs students where problems lurk in reading. In Joshua's instance, the human element was imperative for success. "He likes to be encouraged and challenged, but he does need that little extra push," Randle says. Joshua received Scholastic's READ 180 All-Star award for his work. He also improved his performance on the Kansas State Reading Assessment, scoring in the exemplary range. Josh credits Randle for sticking with him. "She never gave up on me and never gave up on our class no matter what we did," Joshua says.
Despite his performance, Joshua is classified as a special education student in Harmon High School this year. But Randle says it will be a safety net as he learns to negotiate the academic and social mine fields of high school.
Joshua's future is college. "I want," he says, "to do my best in college."