Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Wrong Education Reform

March 18, 2004

After years of defending every detail of the federal accountability law for schools, Education Secretary Rod Paige finally is bringing some much-needed flexibility to the No Child Left Behind Act. His change in attitude is welcome -- even if it comes only after some Republican governors openly rebelled against the law. But it's unfortunate that this week he chose to soften one area where the schools most need to shape up: hiring and training qualified teachers.

Parents know instinctively -- and study after study backs them up -- the importance of good teachers. A child's academic year can be made by an accomplished teacher, or broken by a weak one. No wonder the federal law requires a highly qualified teacher in every classroom by spring 2006.

Paige's office announced that his "new, flexible policies help teachers become highly qualified." Not quite. What he's actually doing is helping schools just label them so. Perhaps his most troubling guidance is to encourage states to redefine middle schools as elementary schools -- as the law allows, he hastened to remind educators. The difference: Elementary teachers need only a credential. And unlike in high school and junior high, they needn't show expertise in subjects they teach. This does a tremendous disservice to students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Middle school is where many students take algebra -- though 2001 data showed that 72% of middle-school math teachers lacked a college major in the subject. It's also where U.S. student scores flatten out and start lagging behind those in other industrialized nations.

It doesn't take a college major to prove mastery. Teachers can take a test to show they understand the material they teach -- a reasonable requirement that has a major effect on how well students learn.

Paige also responded sympathetically to concerns of rural schools, giving their teachers more time to meet the mastery requirements. Teachers are hard to recruit in isolated areas and must teach more grade levels and subjects. Certainly the flexibility takes the pressure off struggling schools -- but to what end? No punishment is attached to the requirement for qualified teachers. Schools simply must publicize how many of their teachers meet the mark. Parents have the right to know that information -- and can campaign for better hiring and training.

There are better avenues for Paige's new tolerance. He has hinted he next will soften the requirement that 95% of children in every subgroup -- ethnic, socioeconomic and so forth -- of a school must take the tests. This unrealistic rule has led good schools that boost scores across the board to be labeled as failing. By all means, let's reform this destructive way of reforming schools.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|