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Inside The Law

Inside The Law

Legal issues at national, state and local levels.

States Gain Ground With Quality Teachers-or Do They?

Most states are making serious strides in having experienced, well-trained teachers in classrooms, particularly low-performing and disadvantaged schools.

That's according to the U.S. Department of Education. "We're seeing some progress and we're making sure each state has a fully approvable plan in the near future," says Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Henry Johnson.

Under No Child Left Behind, teachers of core academic subjects must have a bachelor's degree, state certification, and knowledge in core subjects they teach. The law also requires that states develop plans to help teachers in low-performing and disadvantaged schools become highly qualified.

But the Education Trust, which also analyzed the teacher-equity plans, has a different view and wants states to return to the drawing board. "We can do better for poor and minority students," says Ross Wiener, policy director at Education Trust.

Highly Qualified TeachersNine states-Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina and South Dakota-had plans that were accepted by the peers.

"I think when our team dug into these plans ... we found that states spent a lot of time and energy in creating these plans. But very few of them analyzed the data in a way that is required under the law. I think one thing became clear: that there are no clear and specific guidelines from the Department of Education."

So the organization urged the department to issue explicit guidelines to states on what is required. However, Johnson says the department used 31 peer reviewers compared to the Education Trust's handful.

The department found that nine states have plans that meet all six criteria under the regulation and that 39 states partially met them, meaning they had to improve the plans and address concerns by Sept. 29. Hawaii, Missouri,

Utah and Wisconsin did not meet the criteria. The department will provide

to the four states technical assistance to complete those plans by Nov. 1,

conduct an audit to ensure data are comprehensive and accurate, and require the plans have steps to ensure poor and minority children are not taught disproportionately by less-qualified teachers.

The Education Trust also urges that the 39 states are held accountable when they resubmit their plans.

Determining Learning Disabilities

In the latest changes under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the U.S. Dept. of Ed. is making sure students are identified at a younger age so they can benefit from interventions and work to be proficient in reading and math by 2014, as required under No Child Left Behind.

The evaluation relies on a variety of assessment tools and strategies. The current focus is on a research-based process known as RTI, or Response-to-Intervention.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities pushed for the changes, according to executive director James Wendorf. RTI will be key in identifying students at an earlier age-as early as kindergarten instead of third grade-so they can benefit from interventions before it's too late for them to catch up. "RTI can be used to distinguish special education students from those that just need to get up to speed," he says.

The new regulations include:

Every state develops specific criteria

to determine whether a child has a learning disability

The child's parents and a team of qualified professionals determine if a child has a specific disability

It must be determined that a child's difficulties are not primarily due to a visual, hearing or motor disability, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, culture and environmental factors, or economic disadvantage, limited English proficiency or lack of appropriate instruction in reading or math.

Helping States Create Better Content Assessment

A pilot program aims to ensure that limited English proficient students are getting a fair shake under the No Child Left Behind law.

The U.S. Department of Education recently partnered with 20 states-though all states can participate-and brought experts from across the U.S. to help states develop high-quality assessments for LEP students. The partnership will improve content assessments in reading and math for such students.

The 20 states have submitted plans for the 2005-2006 peer review of assessment systems and focused on tests tailored to LEP students. Most tests for LEP students had not met full approval as of September.

"It's a very important first step ... that will positively help English language learners," said Peter Zamora, legislative staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, during an August teleconference.

"We believe No Child Left Behind has enormous potential to improve the academic achievement and attainment of ELLs, but ... we have to give states the tools and hold their feet to the fire" and ensure students learn to their potential, added Raul Gonzalez of the National Council of La Raza.

Districts Join Push to Improve Tutoring

Two urban districts-Memphis City Schools and Anchorage School District-will join Boston and Chicago schools in a pilot program this year to improve the quality and delivery of free tutoring to struggling students.

A second pilot program last year that gave four districts in Virginia the chance to offer supplemental educational services, or tutoring, in schools in the first year of needing improvement was also extended. This year, some districts in Alaska, Delaware, Indiana, and North Carolina can offer SES in the first year of needing improvement.

The extension stems from the success of the original pilots, which aim to increase student participation in SES offered under No Child Left Behind. Only 10-20 percent of eligible students nationwide took free tutoring in 2003-2004.

The first pilot allows Memphis, Anchorage, Boston and Chicago districts in need of improvement to provide tutoring. The original intent of the law barred districts in need of improvement from providing tutoring themselves and stipulated that they had to provide private tutoring.