In December 2010, the U.S. Congress made a late-night, behind-closed-doors decision to put a policy rider into the final appropriations bill that funded all federal programs through September 30, 2012. (This appropriations bill is called a continuing resolution or CR.) The rider in the CR currently allows any teacher in the midst of their preparation to be called a "highly qualified" teacher despite that fact that they are not fully prepared to be a teacher. Congress allowed this language to be included even though the provision has been found to violate the law by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
As a result, thousands of inexperienced teachers are allowed to teach millions of students without any public reporting about whether the teacher has five weeks or five years of training – every teacher is now called “highly qualified.” These teachers are also teaching in our neediest schools and teaching students with our greatest educational needs, including those with learning disabilities. Yet, the current provision would have us believe the inexperienced and non-qualified are as prepared and highly trained as our most experienced teachers.
The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) along with over 85 leading parent advocate groups, teacher organizations, rural school administrators, and others representing millions of students with disabilities, English language learners, minority and poor children and their families, have urged Congress to let this provision expire on its due date of September 30, 2012.
However, leading members of Congress have indicated that they want to extend the provision in this year’s funding/appropriations cycle. By doing so, Congress will continue to ignore the 9th Circuit Court, but more importantly, they are also ignoring the needs of millions of students who are at great risk of being sold short of their educational potential. These students are being taught by teachers who have as little as four or five weeks of summer training who are then deemed to be as qualified as the very experienced teacher.
While we know teacher shortages exist for certain special populations such as special education and English language learners, we at NCLD think transparency is very important. Teachers receiving training while teaching should be reported as such, not as teachers deemed qualified. Parents and the public have a right to know the real qualification of who is teaching in our schools. NCLD believes the current provision sets a terrible precedent and will certainly lead us down a path to a further unraveling of the rights and educational opportunity of our most at-risk children. Congress should listen to parents and make sure we know – at the beginning of each school year – the qualifications of our child’s teacher.