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Lax Teacher Standards Threaten Students With Disabilities, Advocates Say

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More than 50 advocacy groups are calling on federal officials to crack down on which teachers can be called “highly qualified,” alleging that loose regulations are harming students with disabilities and other minority groups.

In a letter sent to President Barack Obama and congressional leaders late last week, a conglomerate of disability, minority and educational advocacy organizations expressed concern over a recent change in the law allowing teachers to be labeled “highly qualified” even if they are just beginning their training through an alternative program like Teach for America.

The policy “disproportionately impacts our most vulnerable populations: low-income students and students of color, English language learners and students with disabilities who are most often assigned such underprepared teachers,” according to the letter signed by the Council for Exceptional Children, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Easter Seals and the National Disability Rights Network, among others.

What’s more, the groups say that allowing teachers still undergoing training to obtain the “highly qualified” label is disingenuous.

Under regulations initially established for No Child Left Behind, teachers can be called “highly qualified” from the time they begin an alternative training program. But a federal court ruling last fall struck down the policy saying that Congress intended for “highly qualified” to apply to teachers who already completed their training.

In December, however, Congress approved a change in the law to allow the initial regulation to stand.

“There is broad, bipartisan agreement among members of Congress and the Obama administration that it is the intent of Congress for alternative-route teachers to be considered highly qualified,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who chairs the Senate’s education committee, in a statement to The Washington Post at the time.

Who is deemed “highly qualified” is significant, advocates say, because schools must publicly disclose which of their teachers do not meet the designation. Moreover, there are limits on how many teachers who are not “highly qualified” can work at specific schools.

Now, the advocacy groups are urging Congress and the White House to reverse course.

“It’s unacceptable that parents aren’t required to be notified when their child’s teacher is not qualified to teach school,” said Mark Halpert, a parent leader with The National Center for Learning Disabilities, which also signed the letter. “We know that the academic needs of children with disabilities cannot be met by someone who is working to become a qualified teacher, but not there yet.”

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Comments (2 Responses)

  1. Unitedmedia says:

    Perhaps instead of having special education and special education teachers, we should just teach all teachers how to teach to all learning styles. This knowledge could then be supported with additional training throughout the career of the teacher. Segregation of different learning styles needs to be done away with, then this problem you write about would be of no significance to the disability community.

  2. jcgrim says:

    Lowering standards for teacher certification to accommodate for-profit teacher mills such as Teach for America benefits one group and one group only- hedge-fund managers, venture capitalists, or the new edu-entrepreneurs targeting public education funds as their next investment frontier. Fast-tracking teacher training and de-professionalization of the teaching profession allows privatized charter schools to use their public mandate to churn staff and keep teaching salaries low. The mandates in Race to the Top Ggants are very clear about opening the market for alternate routes to teacher certification.

    This law is not intended to improve the quality of education and teaching but to flood the market with temporary missionaries and quickly replace them when they burn out. It is intended bypass the rigor and time of university teacher programs, de-emphasize theory, ignore quality pedagogy, and end careful monitoring of pre-service teaching.

    We must resist these deforms of Race to the Top or we will loose a generation of kids to these “reformers”, but not before these fraudsters will have stolen our money by using their public mandate as an investment tool.

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