Another Flap Over Teacher Qualifications

Federal education officials, reports the Associated Press, are warning Virginia that it could lose federal money “because its standards for highly trained teachers are too relaxed.”

The state claims that the number of classes taught by “highly qualified teachers” is 95 percent, up from 83.5 percent three years ago. But the U.S. Department of Education is questioning those numbers.

Under the No Child Left Behind education law, all classes must be taught by educators who have a bachelor’s degree, a teaching license and can demonstrate knowledge in their subject area. At issue is how Virginia measures whether teachers are knowledgeable in the subjects they teach. For example, veteran teachers in Virginia can be considered highly qualified if they have at least a master’s degree. But the federal government thinks teachers’ advanced degrees should be in the subject they teach.

Predictably, victims rights groups are chiming in. The Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights said Virginia’s standard is unfair to students with disabilities. Said Executive Director Dianne Piche: “It’s almost like some of the states are saying that special-education students aren’t entitled to have teachers who really know math or really know history.”

If Virginia doesn’t address the putative problem, the federal government could cut $2.1 million in funding.

Is the problem real? Is this another example of federal bureaucratic meddling? Or is it a case of state bureaucrats manipulating the numbers to look good? I don’t know. (Conaway Haskins has addressed the issue in his column, “Teaching Our Teachers.”) In either case, it strikes me as an example of everything that’s wrong with a public education system accountable to three different, oft-conflicting levels of government: The system consumes itself with bureaucratic controversy.

In the next edition of the Bacon’s Rebellion e-zine, columnist Chris Braunlich will highlight a brilliant, bipartisan proposal from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute that would end much of the bureaucratic nightmare.

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6 responses to “Another Flap Over Teacher Qualifications”

  1. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I can remember my father, who had a Ph.D in English complaining bitterly when he had to go away for the summer to take additional training in order to qualify for his next raise, at the age of sixty.

    If the government wants to privatize something, I can’t think of a better or easier place to start than education. That was pretty much my father’s opinion too. Education is far too politicized, and we might as well stop it by letting parents give their children whatever kind of ideological education they want to.

    Then we will find out who succeeeds: those who can think and have some social skills, or those who are taught what to think.

  2. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Ray – Any form of privatization would put Fairfax County Public School’s 200 “Cirriculum Specialists’” jobs at risk. (I enjoy mentioning that statistic to public school teachers. The typical response is: “What do 200 cirriculum specialists do?”) As of the start of the 2005-06 school year, Fairfax County Public Schools had 1718.3 “non-school-based positions.” FCPS had 163,534
    students for the same time period.

    By contrast, the Archdiocese of New York’s schools taught 111,500 children for the same time period. The last time I checked directly with the superintendent of those schools, there were less than 30 people on the central staff. The New York schools have a high concentration of minority and low-income students, probably higher than FCPS.

    I would not argue that FCPS should adjust its staff to the exact same proportion as the New York schools, but the true need for centralized staff is probably much closer to the New York level than the elected officials in Fairfax County would like to admit.

    I’m a strong supporter of public schools & have two children in FCPS. However, as with any monopoly, our public schools have a strong tendency to build bureaucracies of non-teachers. If, for example, Virginia directed its education tax dollars to parents instead of to schools, I strongly suspect that FCPS’ staffing would remain the same.

  3. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    The Federal Government should get out of the Education business. Once upon a time, Republicans supported that. Woe to the Presidential candidate who doesn’t promise more money for ‘education’ at the Federal level. Folly can rule.

  4. Conaway B. Haskins III Avatar
    Conaway B. Haskins III

    The federal comments are preposterous and don’t address the real issue. Making a masters in a subject area (history, English, etc) is not only cost-prohibitive, it is also biased toward metro area or college town teachers. How many rural educators can afford to get liberal arts or science masters degrees, not to mention that fact that most “subject-area” masters degree programs are full-time. Additionally, some great teachers set their sights on administration jobs, and pursue degrees as such. Should they be punished.

    If the feds want to be this involved, pony up the money. Oh wait, they are trying to gut the student loan programs for grad school…

  5. Conaway B. Haskins III Avatar
    Conaway B. Haskins III

    Just to clarify, the opening line should say, “The comments by federal education dept. officials are preposterous…” FYI, I was not referring to the sanity of any of the previous comments…

  6. art (kenney 3.0) Avatar
    art (kenney 3.0)

    You don’t need a post graduate degree to be “highly qualified” in VA. You need only to hold a valid teaching license, a BA (in ANY suject area), and have passed the PRAXIS 2 for the subject you are endorsed to teach.

    These aren’t very strict, and I think they should be harsher by far. Why is it not required that teachers have a degree in their subject area? And why don’t teachers with degrees in the subject they are teaching get preference over teachers who are not trained in said subject?

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