Monday, October 1, 2007

What is a "Highly Qualified Teacher?"

The Federal No Child Left Behind Act is up for reauthorization this year and the Miller-McKeon Discussion Draft (PDF) of the new bill presents a much more comprehensive approach to supporting high quality teaching than previously existed in the law. Since we know that for each and every challenge faced by our nation's schools, excellent teachers are the solution – this seems like a positive step for NCLB, but only if the law recognizes that a "highly qualified teacher" does much more than raise test scores.

In the current law a "highly qualified teacher" is defined as "a teacher who proves that he or she knows the subjects he or she is teaching, has a college degree, and is state-certified." ( Proof of "content knowledge" has largely been accomplished through tests like the Praxis. While we agree that teachers should demonstrate strong content knowledge, consider a parallel application of the same assessment tool: No state would ever dream of issuing a driver’s license solely on the basis of a test of the applicant’s knowledge of traffic laws—instead, we take the time to observe and evaluate applicants' performance in an actual vehicle. The same careful consideration of performance should be in place for the teaching profession and we are encouraged that new drafts of the NCLB legislation support development of a national performance-based teacher assessment.

But what would a performance-based teacher assessment look for? One of the weaknesses of the previous law is that the definition of a ‘highly qualified teacher’ relied only on indirect measures of teaching skill and emphasized the importance of content knowledge to the exclusion of other dimensions of excellent teaching. We recommend the new law define "exemplary teaching" in a way that supports a bold vision of what characterizes an outstanding teacher.

The term "exemplary, highly qualified teacher" ought to mean a teacher who:

  • demonstrates a belief that every student possesses the innate desire to learn and maintains high expectations for all students, regardless of socioeconomic background, linguistic background, or learning style
  • demonstrates expertise in instructional methods that fully engage students in the learning process
  • fosters a positive classroom environment characterized by physical and emotional safety, strong interpersonal relationships, and student-teacher respect
  • demonstrates expertise in multiple methods of student assessment, and the ability to interpret multiple types of student data in order to plan and refine instruction
  • demonstrates a commitment to ongoing professional learning and dedication to the habits of a reflective practitioner
We are encouraged that lawmakers are starting to recognize the vital role teachers play in "leaving no child behind." But just as we do not consider a single standardized test to be an adequate measure of all a child knows and is capable of doing - we believe the measure of a teacher's effectiveness in the classroom cannot be one-dimensional and must value the qualities that make the teaching profession one of such challenge and such opportunity.

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