The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 “requires that all teachers of core academic subjects in the classroom be highly qualified. This is determined by three essential criteria: (1) attaining a bachelor's degree or better in the subject taught; (2) obtaining full state teacher certification; and (3) demonstrating knowledge in the subjects taught.” NCLB allows states to determine the requirements that teachers must satisfy to become fully certified and to demonstrate knowledge in the subjects taught. Essentially, if Michigan teachers have gone through an approved teacher-training program and passed their licensure tests, they are considered highly qualified.[*] For veteran teachers who entered the classroom before NCLB and might not have met the general requirements, NCLB provided alternative ways for states to certify that such teachers were highly qualified.[†]
Although NCLB is right to focus on teacher quality as an essential component of accountability, the law’s “Highly Qualified Teacher” mechanism misses the mark. If the federal government is going to be involved in guiding state policy regarding teacher quality, the policy should focus on “Highly Effective Teachers,” not “Highly Qualified Teachers.”[**] This distinction is not merely semantic. NCLB and MDE’s HQT provisions focus on the inputs — such as certification and coursework, which are not associated with student learning gains — rather than the outcomes — i.e. student achievement gains — as the measure of teacher quality. To ensure that students are learning in classrooms with highly effective teachers, the state needs to measure teachers’ impact on student achievement and design policies to promote the recruitment and retention of effective teachers, while at the same time discouraging and removing ineffective teachers.
[*] According to “Frequently Asked Questions for MTTC”: “Generally, elementary and secondary teachers who have taken and passed MTTC tests in the subject-areas and instructional levels in the classrooms for which they hold endorsement and to which they are assigned to teach, meet the NCLB highly qualified definition. Also, middle and secondary (grades 6-12) teachers who are assigned to teach in their academic majors, but may not have taken MTTC tests, are considered highly qualified. Elementary and secondary teachers assigned to middle grade or higher classrooms based on their minor subject-area endorsements, or on endorsements for which they have completed course credits that are equivalent to a minor, will be considered highly qualified AFTER they pass the MTTC test that corresponds to the subject-area and instructional level of the classroom in which they teach. Passing a MTTC test does NOT substitute for earning an endorsement in a subject-area.” (Emphasis in original.)
[†] High Objective Uniform State Standards of Evaluation (HOUSSE). According to “NCLB Revised Highly Qualified Teacher State Plan,” (Michigan Department of Education, 2006), www.ed.gov/programs/teacherqual/hqtplans/mi.doc, (accessed May 18, 2008): “The Michigan Department of Education has begun to phase out the uses of HOUSSE options. From the beginning, these options were available only to the previously identified groups of veteran Michigan teachers who were authorized by the state to teach a particular subject. As a point of clarification, veteran teachers employed prior to January 8, 2002 were the only teachers eligible to elect to use HOUSSE options. It is only the sub-group of veteran teachers facing reassignment due to downsizing of staff, who may select HOUSSE options in the future. All teachers currently employed must [have completed] their HOUSSE option by the June 30, 2006 deadline or prior to placement in the classroom for the 2006-2007 school year. Those teachers who [were] still eligible for the HOUSSE options [had] until June 30, 2007 to complete one of these options. After June 30, 2007 these teachers must either complete the equivalent of a major or take the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification (MTTC) in the specific subject areas for which they are authorized to teach but do not hold a major. No teacher can be considered Highly Qualified in Michigan unless he or she holds the appropriate certificate and endorsement for the subject. While NCLB provides flexibility for rural teachers to teach multiple subjects upon completion of a HOUSSE option and be considered Highly Qualified, Michigan law prohibits the teacher from doing so unless she or he holds the appropriate endorsement.”
In a report on NCLB and HOUSSE, Kate Walsh and Emma Snyder indicated NCLB’s HOUSSE provisions were not well-conceived (see Walsh and Snyder, “Searching the Attic: How States Are Responding to the Nation's Goal of Placing a Highly Qualified Teacher in Every Classroom” (National Council on Teacher Quality, 2004), www.nctq.org/nctq/images/housse_report_2.pdf (accessed May 18, 2008)). They describe how individual states were free to set the criteria of their HOUSSE plans, and many such plans allowed teachers to apply previously completed workshops, committee work or mentoring experiences to earn highly qualified status. It is from these provisions that their report got its title, for the image arises of teachers searching through their attics to find anything that would satisfy the HOUSSE plan.
[**] A similar argument is made by The Commission on No Child Left Behind, which advocates for “Highly Qualified Effective Teachers”; however, the commission’s arguments about the length of time allowed for teachers to demonstrate that they are effective, i.e., seven years, is questionable. Also questionable is the commission’s opinion that peer evaluations should be included in the measure of teacher effectiveness, and that teachers should never have to be assessed for effectiveness again after they meet their proposed HQET standards (see The Commission on No Child Left Behind, “Focus on Teacher Effectiveness to Improve Student Achievement And Enhance Teacher Support: The Commission’s Recommendations in Practice,” (The Aspen Institute, 2007), www.aspeninstitute.org/atf/cf/%7BDEB6F227-659B-4EC8-8F84-8DF23CA704F5% 7D/TeacherEffectivenessBriefFINAL6.28.07.pdf (accessed June 26, 2008). The Center for Teaching Quality advocates “Highly Expert Teachers” as opposed to “Highly Qualified Teachers.” However, even in advocating the use of value-added measurement, they focus on the limitations of this strategy. “The ‘Highly Qualified’ Teacher or the Highly Expert Teacher” (Center for Teaching Quality, 2007), www.teachingquality.org/nclbhqt/index.htm (accessed May 18, 2008).