Mercedes Schneider reports that the new Every Student Succeeds Act has revised a key element of No Child Left Behind. NCLB referred to “highly qualified” teachers 67 separate times. It seemed to be important when this bill was written in 2001 that every child should be instructed by a highly qualified teacher. But as she explains, Teach for America got into the act and persuaded its champions in Congress to play around with the definition so that even a young college graduate with only five weeks of training could be considered “highly qualified.”


The new ESSA solves this problem by deleting any reference to “highly qualified” teachers. Instead, it refers to “effective” teachers.


Schneider writes:


What is interesting is that ESSA foregoes the NCLB language prohibiting emergency or provisional certification. In fact, ESSA does allow for provisional certification and the waiving of licensing criteria for states and schools receiving Title I funding (see page 143). Furthermore, it seems that provisional or emergency certification could be subsumed in “certification obtained through alternative routes.”


It appears to be up to states to decide to specify emergency or provisional certification as belonging under the heading of “alternative certification.”


In October 2013, Senator Harkin worked to include language into federal government debt legislation a provision that allowed teachers in training to be considered “highly qualified.” Such a provision was a gift to Teach for America (TFA), for it allowed TFAers with their five weeks of summer training to “highly qualify” to become full-fledged teachers under NCLB.


However, someone like 2014-15 Alabama Teacher of the Year Ann Marie Corgill, who had been teaching elementary school for over two decades, could not be allowed to teach in a Title-I-funded state under her National Board certification because Alabama does not count National Board certification as an “alternative” certification, nor could the state offer Corgill provisional status to teach fifth grade because such was expressly prohibited under NCLB.


The professional teaching world is on its head, my friends.


To bring it home: Under NCLB and additionally Harkin’s provision stealthily slipped into a debt bill and altering the definition of “highly qualified,” a five-week-trained TFAer is qualified to replace Corgill as a teacher in a state receiving Title I funding.


Be it noted that Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa had Teach for America on his staff, advising on education legislation. Be it also noted that Arthur Rock, a wealthy businessman in California, underwrites the entire cost of putting TFA interns into key Congressional offices ($500,000 a year). There the interns have protected TFA’s interests, getting them named “highly effective,” and now getting them protected in the ESSA.


Is this like the tobacco industry offering free interns to the Senators who regulate their industry?