D.C. Public Schools Alerts Parents Whose Children Are Being Taught By Teachers Who Have Not Met 'Highly Qualified' Definition

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Letters were recently mailed to parents with children in the District of Columbia Public Schools system, informing them if their child was being taught by a core subject area teacher who has not met the “highly qualified” definition. The document also contained instructions for how to access information on the non-highly qualified status of said teacher.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, school districts are required to notify parents or legal guardians when their child has been taught for four or more consecutive weeks by a teacher who has not satisfied the requirements to be deemed “highly qualified.”

NCLB defines a highly qualified teacher as one who has obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher, has obtained full state certification and has “demonstrated competency in the core subject(s) that he/she is teaching.”

According to “DC Urban Moms and Dads,” an online forum for D.C. parents, these letters are nothing new, and in most cases the lack of certification stems from delayed licensure transfers from other states.

That said, last year DCPS fired 413 teachers as a result of poor annual evaluations; 104 of those forced to vacate their positions did not comply with licensure requirements, while 113 were deemed "Ineffective.” This past August, 98 Washington teachers lost their jobs at the hands of a rigorous evaluation system, even as the president of the district’s teachers union praised the school system for softening some of the evaluation criteria. For instance, starting this school year, test scores only account for 35 percent of a teacher's evaluation, down from 50 percent under the previous model.

According to the 2012 Republican education platform, the GOP supports reserving the “highly qualified teacher” designation for teachers who achieve results in the classroom, as opposed to those who merely boast impressive credentials. The party stated it will back legislation that revises the current law provision, which as is identifies highly qualified teachers on the basis of their credentials.

In July, a U.S. House appropriations subcommittee approved legislation that, for two more years, would allow students still learning to be teachers to be considered “highly qualified.” This includes recent college graduates attending Teach for America’s five-week summer training institute.

A letter sent to the members of Congress before the decision urged them to extend the definition of a "highly qualified teacher," noting that participating in an alternative route to teacher certification does not preclude an educator from being highly effective. The letter was signed by nearly 100 national and regional organizations representing schools and students across the country.

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