Illinois state law relaxes teacher rules to side step No Child Left Behind requirement

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No Child Left Behind was supposed to ensure that unqualified teachers either got the additional training they needed or got out of the classroom.

But new state regulations adopted Thursday allow veteran teachers previously considered unqualified under the law to suddenly become qualified--simply by digging up proof of past seminars attended, trips taken abroad or educational articles published decades ago.

The story is much the same across the country, where more than three dozen states have adopted rules that allow experienced teachers to meet the law's requirements without gaining additional knowledge.

Critics say lax state standards make a mockery of a key part of the law that many saw as a savior for low-income students who often have the least-qualified teachers.

"States have no interest, for the most part, in living up to the spirit of what No Child Left Behind is trying to accomplish as far as teacher quality is concerned," said Kate Walsh, president of the Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality. "I have very little optimism that the quality of the veteran teaching force is going to improve. In the end, it's the children who will suffer."

Each state has its own licensing rules, but No Child Left Behind upped the ante in most.

The federal law requires that teachers hold a valid license and demonstrate command of the core subjects they teach. Those core subjects are science, reading, English, history, civics, economics, geography, foreign language, math and the arts.

But the law treats experienced and new teachers differently when it comes to proving mastery of core subjects.

New teachers must pass subject-matter tests or complete the equivalent of a college major in the core subjects they teach.

Veteran teachers have a third option. The law allows them to earn credits through a menu of options to prove competency in core subjects. It's up to each state to develop the menu.

Critics say states are letting teachers earn points for activities that have nothing to do with subject competency. In Alaska, for example, teachers earn points for learning a foreign language, while Arizona gives credit for judging student math competitions.

No one knows how many of Illinois' 130,000 teachers will come up short under the new rules. The state will collect teacher data in the spring.

In Illinois, veteran teachers who have not passed a subject-matter test must earn 100 points.

According to the plan adopted Thursday by the Illinois State Board of Education, veteran teachers can earn all points without passing a subject-matter test, without going back to school or without attaining additional knowledge. In fact, according to a state board document, officials did "everything possible to help teachers avoid having to go back to school."

Illinois' veteran teachers can earn up to 50 points simply by just being a veteran teacher. For every year in the classroom, a teacher earns 25 points--regardless of whether he or she knows the subject matter.

Remaining credits can be earned through activities. For example, a teacher can earn eight points by making an education-related presentation at a conference; 10 points for supervising a student teacher; 15 points for travel related to the area of teaching; or one point for every hour they spend in a conference, workshop or seminar.

It doesn't matter when these activities took place. So, a math teacher who spent five hours in math seminars 20 years ago could earn five credits.

Ginger Reynolds, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning for the state board, said officials believe their plan lives up to the spirit of the law because it insists that all activities focus on the specific core subject the educator is teaching.

"We value classroom experience, and we value the professional development that teachers have received in the past," Reynolds said. "We think these things can be important indicators of quality teaching."

Reynolds also said the rules improve teaching by coaxing school districts to focus teacher-professional development on core subjects.

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