Politics and Public Education

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Throughout the 2004 presidential campaign, liberals and Republicans claimed the legislation that called for overhauling public education would itself have to be overhauled to ensure that the law would reach its audacious goal to have all public school students proficient in both math and reading by 2014. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings earlier this year fine tuned some aspects of the No Child Left Behind Act, including those pertaining to students with disabilities. While we continue to support education reform on the federal level, we nonetheless urge policy-makers to revisit NCLB as critical deadlines approach and as local and state authorities rightly question the breadth of NCLB.

Two deadlines are in the upcoming school year. The first of those two is January 2006, when paraprofessionals must prove they are "highly qualified" to be in the classroom. The second is the end of the 2005-06 school year, when teachers must prove that they are "highly qualified" and proficient in certain subjects. Neither deadline is a surprise to local and state education authorities, because NCLB, which President Bush signed into law in 2002, states that classroom educators would have to prove their mettle no later than four years after enactment of the law. Strict enforcement of the competency mandate means that school districts across the country might lose good, effective classroom teachers and that teachers might meet the same the fate as their students - failure to measure up. The superintendent of D.C. Public Schools, for example, already has primed anyone who cared to pay attention: He told a congressional committee in May that 1,400 of the city's 4,700 teachers cannot prove they are licensed to instruct in certain subjects (as if consistently low test scores and high illiteracy rates said otherwise).

That the competency of veteran teachers is questionable is not surprising either. As the Hoover Institution's Koret Task Force on K-12 Education has pointed out: "Some states have used their discretion under NCLB to adopt tests for new teachers and alternative requirements for veteran teachers ... that are far too easy. Unless this portion of NCLB is modified, the law will not significantly improve the quality of teachers." The Koret group recommended revising the definition of "highly qualified" to include teachers: who have a bachelor's degree; and can prove they either majored in the subject being taught, passed a national subject competency test or can demonstrate through test scores that their teaching methods significatnly raised student test scores.

The National Education Association is unambiguous about where it stands on quality teachers: Pay new teachers higher salaries and they will come; pay veteran teachers still higher salaries and they will stay. While we strongly disagree with the NEA's position, we do agree with Hoover's Koret: NCLB will not reach its ambitious 2014 goal of 100 percent proficiency in reading and math without certifiable quality teachers. …