Fitting the mold: Federal law unfair to rural school teachers

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The Bush administration's education reform law claims to leave no child behind. But what about respected, experienced teachers?

The No Child Left Behind act would force rural schools to leave some of those teachers behind, labeling them "not highly qualified," although they may be some of the most dedicated of Utah teachers.

The requirements that all teachers have a college degree or take extra college training, largely at their own expense, in order to pass a rigorous test in every core subject they teach by the end of the 2006-'07 school year puts an overwhelming burden on teachers in Utah's small rural schools.

State Superintendent Patti Harrington aptly describes the requirement as "ridiculous."

At the very least, the federal education department should create a separate category for schools that face unique circumstances and challenges, such as those in tiny Utah communities where only a handful of teachers provide instruction in all the core subjects.

We're not advocating lowering teaching standards; any teacher who fails to help students learn should find other work. But we believe that some gifted teachers can communicate information in a way students understand, even without a degree in that particular subject.

School districts already require in-service training to make sure teachers are up to speed in every subject they teach. State licensure requirements weed out those who don't meet the standard. It is unreasonable for the federal government to put an additional burden on already successful teachers.

Utah is listed as one of 29 states that have made substantial progress in hiring "highly qualified" teachers or in upgrading the credentials of veteran teachers. About 75 percent of the state's teachers meet the definition, up from 63 percent four years ago. Not surprisingly, no state has yet met the federal mandate of 100 percent "highly qualified" teachers.

We support the goal of No Child Left Behind to bring all children to grade level in core subjects by 2014. But the federal law's inflexibility makes it unrealistic and unfair to rural and small-school teachers, whose classroom challenges are unique.