April 4, 2006
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer
Thousands of Connecticut teachers,
including some award-winning educators, could face new job reviews
because they do not meet U.S. government standards as "highly
qualified teachers," federal officials say.
The U.S. Department of Education has
issued a new monitoring report that throws into question the qualifications
of more than 13,000 teachers, about 30 percent of the state's public
school teaching force, state officials say.
State education officials have vowed
to challenge the report's conclusion that many teachers - especially
older elementary teachers and those teaching social studies and
special education classes - do not meet the criteria established
under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The findings, to be outlined at a State
Board of Education meeting this week, could mean that even some
of the state's most highly regarded teachers would have to undergo
job reviews or possibly even take tests or further training to demonstrate
"It would be a real slap in the
face," said Diana Proto Avino, a 24-year veteran elementary
teacher from the Pierson School in Clinton. "I would consider
it a defamation of my professional character."
Teacher quality is a key element of
the No Child Left Behind Act, the centerpiece of President Bush's
The law, which calls for a broad expansion
of school testing and a shake-up of schools that fail to make adequate
progress, requires states to ensure that all teachers are "highly
What that means is that all teachers
- aside from having at least a bachelor's degree and state certification
- must demonstrate knowledge in the academic subjects they teach.
States failing to meet that goal could
risk millions of dollars in federal money.
Although the law says schools must
comply by the end of this school year, U.S. Secretary of Education
Margaret Spellings recently extended the deadline until next year
for states making good faith efforts.
Under the law, schools that receive
federal Title I money must notify parents whose children are being
taught by teachers who do not meet the standard.
Although states are allowed to establish
their own methods for determining which teachers are highly qualified,
a federal monitoring team that visited the state in January said
Connecticut's method falls short in some areas.
State officials must file a reply to
the report by April 28.
Across the nation, the federal government
has been relatively flexible in allowing states to determine who
is qualified to teach, said Jack Jennings, president of the Center
on Education Policy in Washington, D.C., an organization that has
conducted national surveys on the impact of the No Child Left Behind
"I'm surprised they're being strict
with Connecticut," he said.
Federal officials said they have raised
similar concerns about teachers' command of academic material in
reviews of other states, too.
The No Child Left Behind Act requires
teachers "to show that they know their subjects well enough
to teach them," said Stephanie Babyak, a spokeswoman for the
U.S. Department of Education. "It's not fair to teachers to
ask them to teach subjects, like economics, that they do not know
- and it's certainly not fair to students."
In the Connecticut report, federal
monitors said that elementary teachers who were certified before
1988 - Avino falls in this category - may not have demonstrated
competence to teach core academic subjects such as English, reading,
math and science.
The state began testing all new teachers,
starting in 1988, in subject-matter knowledge.
"To change the rules retroactively
and impose new qualifications is just not playing fair," said
Avino, who has won a state Celebration of Excellence award and the
prestigious Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award. "Shame
on the federal government for having this narrow view of what makes
a highly qualified teacher."
The federal monitors also said that a broad general test required
of the state's social studies teachers may not be adequate to measure
competence in four specific areas: history, geography, civics and
Those teachers must establish credentials
and demonstrate competence for each subject they teach, the monitors
Some educators, however, believe that
would be impractical.
"No school will have the funds
to hire specialists in economics, geography, political science and
history to teach these different courses," said Caryn Stedman,
head of the social studies department at the Metropolitan Learning
Center, a public magnet school in Bloomfield. "If they enforce
this, it means we'd have to eliminate so many of the electives we
Stedman herself might not be considered
highly qualified under the federal guidelines, she said.
"I teach a course in emerging
civil societies, which I wrote, [but] I don't have a degree in political
science," she said. "For all intents and purposes, I don't
have a history degree either, but I've been a history professor
at Central [Connecticut State University] for 11 years." Stedman
holds degrees in East Asian studies.
The federal monitors told state education
officials that the teachers whose credentials are in question must
undergo job reviews by the end of the school year to determine their
The report also questioned whether
the review procedures - created by individual school districts and
approved by the state - are rigorous enough.
State Education Commissioner Betty
J. Sternberg said it is possible some teachers might be required
to take new tests or even to pass additional courses.
"It's not that we're against trying
to make the skills of our teachers better and better," Sternberg
said, "but I'm not sure taking a test or taking courses is
what a veteran teacher needs."
The federal requirement to demonstrate
qualifications in each of the various subjects they teach, such
as math, science or history and language arts, could call into question
the qualifications of nearly all of the state's special education
teachers, state officials say.
"It is only going to exacerbate
the shortage [of special education teachers] we already have,"
The additional requirements might also
push some teachers to retire early, she said.
In Hartford, elementary teacher Deveria
Berry said she is only a year away from retirement after teaching
in the city for 34 years. She has won awards, including the national
Milken Family Foundation honor, but would not meet the federal standard
because she was certified prior to 1988.
"We're constantly being updated
and trained," said Berry, who works at the Simpson-Waverly
Classical Magnet School. "There's no way we can be considered
not highly qualified, so that just seems ridiculous."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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