The No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law by President Bush January 8, 2002 includes as one of its measures the standard to staff our public schools with “highly qualified teachers” by June 2007. The main difficulty with this is that school districts are suffering chronic teacher shortages across the nation.
According to the Title I Director’s Conference (February 2003), “highly qualified” means that all teachers must have full State certification or have passed teacher licensing exam, and hold a license to teach, and that certification or licensure requirements have not been waived on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis.
Approximately 20% of math and science positions are currently filled by uncertified teachers. In urban areas, uncertified or emergency-certified teachers have long filled staffing gaps in order to provide students with instruction. The problem is not that schools do not wish to hire certified teachers but that a suitable pool of certified teachers qualified to teach in these fields and willing to work in these districts does not exist. In addition to staffing shortages, these districts will face even larger budget shortages if they do not find means to comply by next June.
Washington, D.C., has chosen to implement the law one year early. According to the Washington Post, 370 teachers will be terminated Friday because they have failed to gain certification. An additional 450 teachers who are close to achieving certification will be given until September, or risk losing their job if a certified teacher is found to replace them. An additional 300 teachers are expected to retire before the start of next school year. In an already difficult labor market, where are the replacements going to come from?
Another question no one seems to be asking is whether certification even equates with quality. Certification, in most states, is achieved by completing a related degree at a state accredited university and passing a standardized test. It has nothing to do with job performance. In 1983, only three states required prospective teachers to take a general knowledge skills test. By 2002, after passage of NCLB, 48 states required prospective teachers to pass these tests. Research, however, does not show a relationship between test scores and teacher effectiveness.
In one [research study], Marc Claude-Charles Colitti of Michigan State University examined data going back to 1960 and found teachers’ scores had almost no correlation to principals’ evaluations of their classroom performance.
“How smart a teacher is doesn’t necessarily tell us that they’re a good teacher,” he says. Teachers’ SAT or ACT college entrance exam scores, or even their own scores on fifth-grade skills tests when they were children, would be as accurate at telling whether they’ll be good teachers, he says. — USA TODAY
Despite the lack of evidence, we continue to spend between $50 million and $100 million annually on these exams which may actually turn away qualified teachers. Classroom performance does not factor into the decision anywhere, even in the cases of the thousands of uncertified teachers currently teaching to help fill shortages.