Starting in 2002 with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, federal law has defined a highly qualified teacher in a specific way. While the definition in NCLB of highly qualified, (definition 23) differentiates between elementary teachers, secondary teachers and those in charter schools, in general the Act requires that “the teacher has obtained full State certification as a teacher (including certification obtained through alternative routes to certification)…”
But the phrase “certification obtained through alternative routes” has become a lightening rod of controversy in recent days due to a lawsuit and a quick congressional fix. According to US Department of Education regulations issued shortly after NCLB passed, to meet this requirement a teacher could either (1) have obtained certification through an alternative route program or (2) be “participating in an alternative route to certification program … [and] demonstrate satisfactory progress toward full certification as prescribed by the State.”
Then, in response to this change, in the very end of December just as Congress was leaving town for its winter break, it decided to amend Title I of NCLB to allow teachers who have merely enrolled in alternative route programs to be deemed highly qualified. It added this amendment to a Continuing Resolution – legislation funding the government, and made the Department of Education’s expanded definition law effective through 2013.
CEC is concerned that deeming anyone who is in the midst of their alternative route program as “highly qualified” does not serve the goal of providing students – with or without disabilities – the education they deserve. CEC is not opposed to alternative route programs. Indeed, special education has been plagued by personnel shortages and ignoring alternative route programs would turn a blind eye to the field’s very real need. But, CEC has always called for alternative route programs to be rigorous and evidence based.
To address this change and advocate for proactive real solutions, CEC has met with members of the Senate and House education committees to explain our concerns and present evidence, with the help of CEC member and personnel preparation expert Dr. Mary Brownell that demonstrates students with disabilities achieve higher gains with well prepared instructors. CEC is continuing to meet with the community and congressional staff to provide information and advocate for real, equitable and high standards for all teachers.