What Does Highly Qualified Teacher Status Really Mean?
Hearing the words “highly qualified” to describe a public school teacher gives parents a level of comfort that the teacher leading their child’s education at school is, well, highly qualified.
But what does that designation really mean? And where did it come from?
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) required a “highly qualified” teacher (HQT) in every classroom where a core academic subject is taught by the 2005-2006 school year.
Core academic subjects include: English, reading or language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography.
Regulations said that in order to be deemed “highly qualified”, teachers must (1) hold a bachelor’s degree, (2) full state certification or licensure, and (3) prove that they know each subject they teach.
It was left up to states to determine actual certification requirements.
States are required to keep and report data on which teachers are highly qualified.
Schools are required to notify parents if their child is not being taught by an HQT after the first four weeks of school.
Where Did the HQT Requirement Come From?
There is a long history of less-experienced teachers being placed to teach in high-poverty schools.
In fact, it’s still happening. [Alabama’s numbers are conspicuous, but the linked report bears further analysis before reporting here.]
The requirement was to ensure HQTs were in every classroom. Teachers worked hard to comply.
States continue to craft plans to improve, and just a couple of weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Education approved Alabama’s plan to ensure all children have access to excellent educators regardless of their ZIP code.
Interestingly, the HQT requirement is not in either the House or Senate version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) bill awaiting consensus and approval by Congress. So the HQT discussion could be a moot point whenever Congress decides to reauthorize ESEA.
When that happens, states will be left to ensure excellent educators are teaching in every school.
Alabama’s Teacher of the Year and the HQT Snag
The news of Alabama’s 2014 Teacher of the Year Ann Marie Corgill facing multiple non-classroom-related snags has raised awareness of the complicated and often unclear process of teacher certification and HQT status.
Recently, I had the privilege of attending the Education Writers Association’s seminar on Teacher Preparation, entitled “Ready Day 1”, in Chicago. Education writers spent two days examining various issues around teacher preparation and teacher certification and teacher training…well, all things teacher, really.
The news of Corgill’s journey brought it all home.
What Makes a Teacher Highly-Qualified?
The simple answer to this question is: meeting the necessary requirements.
For teacher candidates following a traditional process (obtaining an undergraduate degree through a college or university):
- earn a bachelor’s degree,
- obtain state certification, and
- prove that they know each subject they teach, i.e. take the PRAXIS teacher exam that covers the appropriate content area.
There are alternate and additional routes to certification, including one that utilizes National Board certification, but all call for taking tests to prove proficiency in the area in which a teacher is seeking certification.
Here’s the ALSDE’s web site on certification.
State certification is one of three requirements to be deemed an HQT.
There is another path to being an HQT which doesn’t require state certification already be obtained, only that the teacher is working toward full certification.
There’s a bit of history connected to how it happened, but Congress allowed teachers pursuing alternate routes to certification to be deemed highly-qualified under the following conditions:
In addition to those conditions, the State is required to have some process to ensure all of those requirements are met.
While the Alabama State Department of Education did not respond to my request for clarification, it appears this pathway for being designated HQT, specifically the Special Alternative Certificate is the one designated for Teach for America participants. This pathway allows participants three years to complete the requirements for state certification.
Some have claimed that allowing those who have not yet fully obtained state certification to be designated an HQT dilutes the very meaning of HQT. That’s a discussion for another day.
In summary, then, there are two basic ways teachers can be designated HQTs: the traditional route and the alternative route.
What about Those Innovation Waivers?
One question being raised in relation to Corgill’s battle was whether the state’s Innovation Waivers could possibly waive the HQT requirement for Title I schools. Corgill taught in an elementary school that is part of a feeder pattern of schools granted an innovation waiver by the state board of education. That elementary school is a Title I school.
Simply put, the state cannot waive any federal requirement, which includes allowing only HQTs to teach in Title I schools. The penalty for allowing non-HQTs to teach in Title I schools could include withholding federal Title I funds from the school.
What about Charter Schools?
Though Alabama is still nearly two years from seeing the first public charter school open (and ESEA could be reauthorized without the HQT requirement by that time), ESEA currently says that states are allowed to set HQT requirements for public charter schools.
What Percentage of Core Classes Are Taught by HQTs in Alabama?
So if the whole idea behind HQT status is to ensure core academic classes are taught by HQTs, what do the numbers show?
The most recent information available is from the 2013-2014 school year. During that year,
- 98.3% of all core classes in all elementary schools were taught by HQTs,
- 97.4% of core classes in high-poverty elementary schools were taught by HQTs, and
- 99.0% of core classes in low-poverty elementary schools were taught by were taught by HQTs.
At the secondary level (grades 6-12), the numbers show more discrepancies:
- 95.1% of all core classes in all secondary schools were taught by HQTs,
- 89.0% of all core classes in high-poverty secondary schools were taught by HQTs,
- 96.8% of all core classes in low-poverty secondary schools were taught by HQTs.
The combined percentage of core classes across all grade levels taught by HQTs was 96.83%.
The percentage of core classes taught by HQTs in Alabama decreased by 0.09% from 2012-2013 to 2013-2014.
Alabama was one of 38 states that experienced an overall decrease (0.09%) from 2012-2013 to 2013-2014.
Here’s a map showing the overall percentage of core academic classes taught by HQTs in the southern states beginning with the 2003-2004 school year. Use the slider to move between years.
If the goal was 100%, we are somewhere short of that.
There’s no doubt that the path to certification for teachers is complicated. And the path to gain HQT status is an extra step that means one thing for teachers who followed a traditional path and something else for those seeking alternative certification.
Consider this an explainer to help us all better engage in the discussions about Alabama’s public schools.
Knowing what you now know about HQT status, what do you think? Does the requirement accomplish what it set out to accomplish?
What Is Happening at the State Level with Teacher Certification Now and in the Immediate Future
There is a LOT going on at the state level. It’s laborious conversation, but it’s extremely important to the future of Alabama’s public schools and public schoolchildren.
Work is underway at the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) to change teacher certification requirements beginning with the 2016-2017 school year.
It was the subject of an hour-long discussion at the state board October work session (discussion starts at 1:51:07).
There were so many questions from state board members about why the changes were being proposed and whether the changes were the right changes that State Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice cut the discussion short and suggested that ALSDE staff take the feedback from the board and see if further changes are needed.