Technology—used to enhance teacher recruitment, aid certification preparation, and assist professional development—is one of the few tools school leaders still can use in the worsening shortage of qualified teachers. New federal regulations are highlighting the long-anticipated problem.

Starting now, according to the Improving Teacher Quality component of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), school districts that receive Title I funds must hire only “highly qualified” teachers—meaning those who are certified in the subjects they’re teaching. By the end of 2005-06 school year, all teachers will have to meet the same requirement.

Although educators applaud the federal government’s effort to improve teacher quality, they say meeting these requirements puts an extra burden on school systems already plagued by a shortage of teachers, particularly in science and math.

“The requirement doesn’t take into consideration the market pressure that schools are under,” said Paul Houston, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). “There are very few school systems that try to put unqualified teachers in classrooms on purpose.”

Cash-strapped state budgets, private sector competition, and a reduced ability to retain qualified teachers leave school leaders little room to maneuver. Technology is one of the few tools still available.

States have limited resources to devote to the problem, but many are using technology and the internet to aid districts in the recruiting process.

Carol Whelan, assistant superintendent for the office of high-quality educators at the Louisiana Department of Education, said 15.6 percent of Louisiana teachers are not certified or are teaching outside of their areas of expertise.

“Recruiting and retaining [are processes that] take time. There’s a lot of competition. Every [other] state is recruiting as well,” Whelan said.

To address the requirements, Louisiana has developed a plan to get teachers certified, set up regional computer labs where teachers can practice for certification exams, and started a teacher cadet program that targets students in high school who might be interested in becoming teachers.

The state also built a web page, called Teach Louisiana, that shows teachers what they need to do to get certified, lists jobs teachers can apply for, and shows parents what credentials their child’s teacher has.

School districts compete with corporate America for highly skilled math, science, and technology professionals, yet because of budget constraints, they can’t offer the same lucrative salaries and opportunities. To make matters worse, school districts also are stealing high-quality teachers from each other.

“When you are in a poorer school district, you have a hard time even competing with wealthier school districts,” said Bill Krugler, deputy superintendent of the East Side Union School District in San Jose, Calif. Although Krugler’s district is fully staffed for the start of the new school year, 13 percent of its 8,000 teachers have only emergency credentials—a situation reflected in districts across the country.

Unqualified and emergency-credentialed teachers fill classrooms nationwide. One in four high school instructors teaches out of his or her area of expertise, according to U.S. Department of Education (ED) data. This average increases to 34 percent if only high-poverty schools are counted.

Many experts say the nation’s teacher quality problem is a result of low wages, scant professional development and support, and a lack of prestige. They also say high-quality teachers are hard to retain.

Research shows that high-quality teachers lead to higher academic achievement, but 15 percent of teachers leave the profession while only seven percent enter, said Johnny Lott, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Critics say although NCLB requires skilled, high-quality teachers to help improve student achievement, it does little to address the roots of the problem.

“The problem is a result of a lack of resources, and we still have a lack of resources,” said Arnold Fege, director of public engagement and advocacy for the Public Education Network. “The politicians are only meeting us halfway. They provided the bill and the legislation, but they haven’t provided the resources.”

NCLB recommended $3.175 billion for Improving Teacher Quality for fiscal year 2002, but President Bush requested only $2.6 billion for the program in his 2002 budget, and Congress funded it at $2.85 billion. For 2003, Bush requested $2.85 billion, but in July the Senate appropriations committee recommended $3.1 billion. The House has yet to take up its education spending bill for 2003.

Rob Weil, deputy director of educational issues for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), said the legislation doesn’t provide enough governance to make a significant impact on issues such as teacher salaries, retention, or professional development, which are the main causes of the problem to begin with.

“[ED] would argue with you, but no, there are not enough things in the bill to [address those needs],” Weil said.

Weil agrees that more money could help. “It’s not all about salary, but teachers want to have families too,” Weil said. “We’re talking about raising a family and having a comfortable living, and it’s very difficult to do on a teacher’s salary.”

In San Jose, the starting salary for teachers is $40,000 but the median price for houses is $420,000, said East Side’s Krugler. Because wages can’t keep up with the city’s high cost of living, teachers are forced to commute 60 or 70 miles or find roommates, he said.

Houston’s organization, AASA, has recommended to Congress that it authorize a financial incentive—such as a $5,000 to $6,000 tax credit—for qualified teachers who work in urban, disadvantaged school districts. So far, no such action has been taken.

Krugler noted that many state governments aren’t in a position to help financially, either. “We can’t depend on the federal or state government to solve this dilemma,” he said. “In California [as in many other states], we are facing a huge budget deficit.”

The Improving Teacher Quality requirements of NCLB have prompted Krugler’s district to refine its teacher training and retention programs. The district also is looking to increase local taxes to raise more money.

Innovative solutions like those in Louisiana may help, but AFT’s Weil points out there are no strong federal penalties for failing to comply with the new teacher quality requirements.

“Unlike schools that don’t make Adequate Yearly Progress, there are very few sanctions if you don’t make your [Improving Teacher Quality] goals,” he said.

This means the overall impact of the program’s requirements will be determined by educators. “It’s going to be as effective as how serious different people across the country take it,” Weil said of the program.

Improving Teacher Quality requirements

Beginning with the first day back to school, the Improving Teacher Quality component of NCLB requires that school districts hire only “highly qualified” teachers. Districts also must devise a plan to ensure that all teachers are teaching in their core subjects and meet the “highly qualified” requirements by the end of the 2005-06 school year.

According to NCLB, a highly qualified teacher must hold a bachelor’s degree and have either a state certification or license to teach in that state. Charter school teachers must meet the certification requirements of their state’s charter school law.

NCLB has additional requirements depending on what grade teachers teach and if the teacher is new to the profession.

For example, new elementary school teachers must demonstrate their knowledge and teaching skills in reading, writing, math, and other areas by passing a rigorous state test. Middle or high school teachers must pass a rigorous state test in the subjects they will teach, and they should essentially have earned their undergraduate degree in those subjects.

Like school districts, states also have to devise a plan to ensure that all teachers are teaching in their field and that they meet these requirements by the end of the 2005-06 school year. State plans must have an annual measurable objective for each district and school to increase the percentage of teachers meeting these goals each year.

NCLB requires paraprofessionals to have obtained an associate’s degree and demonstrate the ability to help teach reading, writing, and math.

School districts can use part of the Title I funds for ongoing training and professional development to help teachers and paraprofessionals meet these new requirements.

Links:

ED’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Look under “NCLB Regulations”)
http://www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/asst.html

Public Education Network
http://www.publiceducation.org

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
http://www.nctm.org

American Federation of Teachers
http://www.aft.org

National Science Teachers Association
http://www.nsta.org

Teach Louisiana
http://www.teachlouisiana.net