When President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) into law in January 2002, it was generally described as the most sweeping national education reform that had been enacted in decades. Amending the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 made significant changes in the major federal programs that support schools in their efforts to educate our children.
The U.S. Department of Education noted that NCLB is based on the principles of increased flexibility and local control, stronger accountability for results, expanded options for parents and an emphasis on effective teaching methods scientifically proven to increase student academic achievements.
Much of the attention has been focused on student testing requirements and annual assessments, since NCLB requires each state to define adequate yearly progress (AYP) for school districts and schools within the parameters set by the act. NCLB requires assessments in reading, language arts, math, and soon in science-but states may require assessments in additional subject areas such as writing skills, history and geography.
Schools receiving Title I funds that don't make AYP as defined by their state for two consecutive years are identified as in need of improvement, and school officials must develop a two-year plan to turn the school around. Moreover, students must be offered the option of transferring to another public school in the district.
The requirements spelled out within the No Child Left Behind Act do not only address student achievement, however; the law also includes teacher qualifications. And what makes a teacher "highly qualified" under NCLB has led to much confusion for parents, students and the teachers themselves.
To help teachers understand NCLB, the Department of Education released a "Toolkit for Teachers," and included in the toolkit were facts and myths about the requirements. For example, it is a myth, says the Ed. Department, that the act requires all teachers to earn a bachelor's degree as well as certification in every subject they teach. What it does require is for teachers of core academic subjects to have a bachelor's degree and full state certification and to demonstrate content knowledge in every academic subject they teach-and states decide what is necessary for certification and for determining subject matter competency.
The general requirements for a highly qualified teacher under NCLB are as follows, according to the U.S. Department of Education:
* a bachelor's degree
* full state certification, as defined by the state
* demonstrated competency, as defined by the state, in each core academic subject taught by the teacher
The core academic subjects defined by NCLB are English, reading or language arts, math, science, history, civics and government, geography, economics, the arts and foreign language.
An April 2003 report on NCLB issued by the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc) notes that concern about the impact of these provisions on career and technical education prompted the Department of Education to develop guidance clarifying the provisions. The NASDCTEc report cited the statement of the Ed. Department in its non-regulatory guidance on the highly qualified provisions as they relate to career and technical educators:
"Only vocational education teachers who teach core academic courses are required to meet the definition of a highly qualified teacher. The term 'core academic subjects' is defined in ESEA as 'English, reading or language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history and geography.'
"For example, a vocational teacher who teaches a course in Applied Physics for which students receive a science credit must hold a four-year degree, be licensed or certified by the State, and demonstrate subject matter competence in order to be considered highly qualified. …