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Highly Qualified Worries

From the inner city of Detroit to the rural town of Grass Lake, Mich., public schools are feeling the heat. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 has left many schools grappling, despite its promises. [bug2]
In 2001, the federal government passed the education legislation. The “blueprint” of this bipartisan legislation, as President George W. Bush put it, is to increase accountability for student performance, focusing on what works—in every school—from Detroit to Grass Lake.
According to the White House Web site, “Federal dollars will be spent on effective, research-based programs and practices. Funds will be targeted to improve schools and enhance teacher quality.” The success and implications of the legislation are very debatable, but one thing is certain—some schools are being left behind.
The intent was to reduce bureaucracy, increase flexibility and empower parents. “Additional flexibility will be provided to states and school districts and flexible funding will be increased at the local level,” the White House reported. But one aspect of the legislation is proving very difficult for rural schools.
This is the requirement that teachers be “highly qualified” to teach, an idea that sounds extremely responsible at first. According to the U.S. Department of Education Web site, a highly qualified teacher must have a bachelor’s degree, complete state licensing and certification and demonstrate sufficient knowledge of all subjects taught. This prompted many high school teachers across the nation to take the classes and tests they needed to become “highly qualified.”
[teach]For new middle and secondary teachers, being “highly qualified” in a subject matter means passing the rigorous State test in the subject they wish to teach, successful completion of an undergraduate major in the area, a Master’s degree in the area, completing coursework equivalent to a degree or advanced certification.
For rural high schools especially, it is much more economical for a teacher to be able to teach more than one subject. For instance, if the school has a small language program, it is more efficient that a teacher hired to teach French could also teach a core subject like math. If instructors were able to teach only their college major, a French teacher would be impractical to employ at a school for only a few classes a day and the French program would most likely be cut.
To catch up, rural high school teachers were being granted an extra three years to become qualified in “the additional subjects they teach,” according to the No Child Left Behind Web site. But even with these extra three years, rural schools are feeling the pressure. Although teachers who have taken the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification (MTTC) since 1992 are considered qualified, older and more experienced teachers must achieve this status within the next few years or they will find themselves unable to teach the classes they have taught for years.
Doctoral student Kathleen McCorral is the principal Grass Lake High School in Grass Lake, Mich., a small town nestled between Jackson and Ann Arbor. Having worked in both small and large schools, McCorral explains, in a smaller school, one must “wear more hats.”
Responsibilities like chaperoning a school dance aren’t usually left to the staff of a large school, but in a small rural school such as Grass Lake High School, they are. Smaller schools also have a more limited curriculum to offer.
As No Child Left Behind requires classes to be taught by qualified individuals, McCorral is unable to offer a journalism class, as she doesn’t have an experienced teacher on staff. And although her school has a new auditorium, McCorral can only offer a drama class if it is listed as an English class. A teacher who is not qualified in English, but is a frequent participant in community theater, is not able to teach her craft to students. However, an English teacher who suffers from severe stage fright could.
The “highly qualified teacher” requirement has worried some education students at MSU, alarmed by rumors that No Child Left Behind meant that as they graduated and became certified to teach secondary school, they would only be allowed to teach their major subject.
According to the Michigan Department of Education’s “Highly Qualified Teachers Questions & Answers,” dated November 8, 2004, “Teachers with a minor in a core academic subject,” such as math, science or English, “may teach that subject, if they have the appropriate endorsement on their Michigan Teacher Certificate and if they have passed the appropriate Michigan Test for Teacher Certification subject area exam or have met one of Michigan’s High Objective Uniform State Standards of Evaluation (HOUSSE) requirements which defines a highly qualified teacher.”
“It limits classes that I’m able to teach,” said biology major and math and chemistry minor Kellie Dean, who will begin student teaching next fall. Once in a while, she said, No Child Left Behind was brought up in her teacher education classes.
Future teachers studying at MSU, like Dean, need not fear a limited subject area to teach. Their minors could still be used to get certified in a second subject. Rural schools, however, are left behind to sweat.

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