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Feds Demand Teacher Equity

August 23, 2006
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer

Federal officials have ordered Connecticut to bolster efforts to assure that schools in the state's poorest cities get the same kind of high quality teachers that schools in wealthier towns have.

The U.S. Department of Education wants the state to spell out in more detail how it plans to address inequalities outlined in a teacher quality plan prepared by the state. That plan included figures showing children in Connecticut's poorest cities are more likely than others to be in classrooms with poorly qualified teachers.

The department said the failure to outline steps to correct that problem is a key deficiency in the state's recent plan to comply with teacher quality requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

"We know that's a challenge," said interim state Education Commissioner George A. Coleman. The federal review, he said, "gets to the heart of a problem we know is out there - making urban centers sufficiently attractive to people that they would want to make [teaching] a career."

All 50 states are required to get approval for their teacher quality plans or risk losing millions of dollars in federal education grants.

Teacher quality is a key element of the No Child Left Behind Act, the 4-year-old school reform law that is the centerpiece of President Bush's educational agenda. 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 qualified."

That means that all teachers - aside from having at least a bachelor's degree and state certification - must demonstrate competence in the academic subjects they teach as measured by passing a test, holding an appropriate college major or undergoing a school district review, for instance.

In documents supplied to the federal government, Connecticut reported that all but 3 percent of the state's public school teachers meet the "highly qualified" standard. However, the figures also show that nearly 7 percent of teachers in the state's poorest cities fail to meet the standard, compared with slightly less than 2 percent in wealthier towns.

Federal monitors said the state's plan does not indicate how the state will address inequities in teacher quality at specific schools. They also said the plan did not include sufficient information on whether minority children generally get teachers of the same quality as white children do.

State education officials have a Sept. 29 deadline to file another revision of its teacher quality plan, including "specific steps adequate to ensure that poor and minority children are taught at the same rates as other children by highly qualified and experienced teachers," U.S. officials said.

The latest federal review highlights the difficulty of attracting and keeping qualified teachers in schools such as those in Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport - where many students are poor, and most are members of minority groups. It is a problem that afflicts urban schools across the nation, educators say.

Connecticut, which provided a revised teacher quality plan in July, is one of 37 states whose plans met some, but not all, of the six criteria established by the federal government to bolster the quality of the teaching force. Nine states met all the criteria while four others met none. The District of Columbia and Puerto Rico also won partial approval for their plans.

Recruiting qualified teachers is partly a numbers issue, said Gail Johnson, head of the personnel department for Hartford Public Schools. "We're filling over 200 positions," she said. "When you have a small town filling one or two positions, they're going to have more of a chance to fill those positions with highly qualified individuals."

Some prospective teachers prefer to avoid the challenges of teaching in urban schools, but Johnson said, "We also sell that it's rewarding, that you can really make a difference [and] be a factor in those kids' success."

Hartford has found an adequate supply of qualified elementary teachers, but Johnson said it has been more difficult to fill middle school and high school jobs in areas such as mathematics and special education, she said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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