No Child Left Behind: A Toolkit for Teachers
Archived Information


Highly Qualified Teacher Requirements

Why is teacher quality such an important issue?

A major objective of No Child Left Behind is to ensure that all students, regardless of race, ethnicity or income, have the best teachers possible. A well-prepared teacher is vitally important to a child's education. In fact, research demonstrates the clear correlation between student academic achievement and teacher quality.9 Studies also show that many classrooms and schools, particularly those with economically disadvantaged students, have disproportionately more teachers who teach out-of-field or are not fully qualified in the subjects they teach.10

What does "full state certification" mean?

Full state certification is determined by the state in accordance with state policy. No Child Left Behind allows states to set their own certification requirements. NCLB encourages states to have high standards and to use this opportunity to strengthen and streamline their certification requirements to make sure that talented individuals are not discouraged from becoming teachers, or continuing to teach.

Which subjects are considered the core academic subjects?

No Child Left Behind defines "core academic subjects" to include English, reading or language arts, math, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history and geography.

What are the deadlines for meeting the highly qualified teacher requirements?

Beginning with the 2002-03 school year, teachers of core academic subjects who are newly hired to teach in Title I programs must meet all requirements. By the end of the 2005-06 school year, all teachers of core academic subjects must meet the requirements in every state that receives Title I funds. However, teachers who teach multiple subjects in eligible small, rural schools must meet the highly qualified teacher requirements in one subject, but have additional time to meet the requirements in other subjects. (See page 25 for more information on flexibility for eligible small, rural school teachers.)

How do I become highly qualified if I am a new teacher?

Those who are considering teaching core academic subjects must meet their state's definition of highly qualified teacher, which includes demonstrating knowledge in their subject area. For this reason, the law requires that new teachers hold a bachelor's degree, have full state certification and demonstrate subject-matter competency. The teacher can do this by passing a rigorous subject test in each of the academic subjects he or she teaches. A middle or high school teacher may demonstrate subject-matter competency by having successfully completed, in each of the core academic subjects he or she teaches, an academic major, a graduate degree, coursework equivalent to an undergraduate academic major, or advanced certification or credentialing. New elementary school teachers must demonstrate the required competency by passing a state-approved test.

How do I become highly qualified if I am an experienced teacher?

Many experienced teachers have already met the highly qualified teacher requirements. Experienced teachers must meet the three basic requirements by the end of the 2005-06 school year. They must have a bachelor's degree and full state certification (no emergency certificates). For the third requirement, there are multiple ways for experienced teachers to demonstrate that they have sufficient content knowledge. Teachers may opt for taking a subject-matter test (as determined by the state) or demonstrate competency through the state-developed high, objective, uniform state standard of evaluation (HOUSSE). In addition, middle and high school teachers may demonstrate competency through a major (or its equivalent) or through advanced certification or credentials in the subject they teach. Teachers should contact the state department of education for more information about meeting the highly qualified teacher definition in the subjects they teach.

What are the basic requirements in the federal law for highly qualified teachers?

The law requires that teachers of core academic subjects meet three basic requirements:

  • Hold a bachelor's degree.
  • Obtain full state certification, which can be "alternative certification."
  • Demonstrate subject-matter competency in the core academic subjects taught.

What is the "high, objective, uniform state standard of evaluation" (HOUSSE)?

HOUSSE is a system by which the state can determine that an experienced teacher meets the subject-matter competency requirements in the law. Under No Child Left Behind, the criteria for such a system

  • Are set by the state for grade-appropriate academic subject-matter knowledge and teaching skills.
  • Are aligned with challenging state academic content standards and student achievement standards and developed in consultation with core content specialists, teachers, principals and school administrators.
  • Provide objective, coherent information about the teacher's attainment of core content knowledge in the academic subjects in which a teacher teaches.
  • Are applied uniformly to all teachers in the same academic subject and the same grade level throughout the state.
  • Take into consideration, but are not based primarily on, the time a teacher has been teaching the academic subject.
  • Are made available to the public upon request.

The law clearly recognizes that teachers who have been in the classroom have a variety of experiences and training that may demonstrate their competency in the subjects they teach. Therefore, the HOUSSE system may involve multiple, objective measures of teacher competency. Teachers should contact their state department of education regarding specific HOUSSE procedures.

For teachers who teach multiple subjects, states may develop one streamlined HOUSSE procedure for determining subject-matter competency in multiple subjects, such as in discipline families.

Do highly qualified teacher requirements apply to special education teachers?

Yes. If a teacher teaches any core academic subject, No Child Left Behind requires that he or she be highly qualified. However, special educators do not have to meet the highly qualified teacher requirements if they do not directly instruct students in a core academic subject.

Congress is considering the requirements for highly qualified special education teachers as part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) reauthorization, with completion expected this year.

What activities may special education teachers carry out if they are not highly qualified in the core academic content areas being taught?

Special education teachers often carry out activities that would not, by themselves, require them to be highly qualified in a particular subject. Special educators do not have to demonstrate subject-matter competency in core academic subjects if they do not directly instruct students in those subjects, or if their role is limited to providing highly qualified teachers with consultation on the adaptation of curricula, the use of behavioral supports and interventions, or the selection of appropriate accommodations. In addition, they do not need to meet highly qualified requirements in a subject area if they assist students with study or organizational skills and reinforce instruction that the child has already received from a teacher who is highly qualified in that core subject.

Special educators have critical knowledge that supports teaching and learning, and collaboration is important in order to meet the needs of students with disabilities, in both regular classroom settings and special settings.

Would a teacher who provides core academic instruction to English language learners need to be highly qualified, even if the child already receives instruction in the same subject from a teacher who is highly qualified?

Yes. A teacher of English language learners who provides instruction in core academic subjects needs to meet the requirements, even if he or she is not the only one instructing the students in that subject. However, if the teacher is reinforcing instruction already delivered, or is only providing advisory assistance to a teacher who has delivered the instruction, the highly qualified teacher requirements do not apply.

Can English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) teachers demonstrate subject-matter competency in the subjects they teach through an advanced certificate or degree in ESL?

An endorsement, degree or certification in ESL may not be used to demonstrate subject-matter competency, unless the endorsement or certification includes coursework equivalent to that of a subject major, or is in line with other means allowable under No Child Left Behind and required by the state to determine subject-matter competency.

No Child Left Behind requires that ESL teachers demonstrate subject-matter competency in the core subjects they teach. For example, a teacher who teaches math using ESL methodologies would need to demonstrate subject-matter competency in math. A teacher who uses ESL methodologies to teach parts of the general elementary curriculum to fourth-graders must demonstrate competency as an elementary teacher.

In No Child Left Behind, the list of core academic subjects includes the arts. What does the law mean by "the arts"?

While No Child Left Behind includes the arts in its list of core academic subjects, it does not define the term. Each state can determine its own definition of "the arts." For example, some states define the arts to include music, visual arts and dance.

No Child Left Behind does not list biology, chemistry and physics in the list of core academic subjects. Does the law require teachers who teach science to demonstrate competency in each discrete science, or as a general category?

While the list of core academic subjects in the law does not break out the sciences, states must consider their current teacher certification standards and student achievement standards to determine what is an appropriate demonstration of subject-matter competency. If a state currently requires subject-specific certification in the discrete fields of science, then the state may require teachers to demonstrate competency in each discrete field. Alternatively, a state may certify teachers as general science teachers or use other broad categories, such as life sciences and physical sciences. In that case, the state may require new teachers to demonstrate content knowledge through a content exam or major and, for experienced teachers, may develop a high, objective, uniform state standard of evaluation (HOUSSE) procedure, aligned with current certification standards.

What is "alternative certification"?

It can mean two things. First, alternative certification programs are those that allow candidates to teach while they are meeting state certification requirements. These programs must provide solid professional development to the teachers before they enter the classroom and while they are teaching and must also include a mentoring or induction component. Teachers in these programs may teach for up to three years while they earn their state certification, provided that they have met the bachelor's degree and subject-matter competency requirements.

Second, states can create alternate routes to certification. For example, they can adopt a new system supported by the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE), which allows teacher candidates to demonstrate their competency through a comprehensive, multi-faceted assessment rather than through coursework in specific education school courses. Teachers who pass the assessment would be considered fully certified before they enter the classroom.

Do long- and short-term substitute teachers need to meet the highly qualified teacher requirements?

It is vital that substitutes be able to perform their duties well. Although short-term substitute teachers do not need to meet the highly qualified teacher requirements under No Child Left Behind, it is strongly recommended that a long-term substitute teacher meet the requirements for a highly qualified teacher as defined in the law. In addition, as states and districts establish a definition for "long-term substitute," they should bear in mind that the law requires parent notification if a student has received instruction for four or more consecutive weeks by a teacher who is not highly qualified.

Must elementary school subject specialists be highly qualified in all subjects or just the subject they teach?

A fully certified, experienced elementary school teacher who teaches only a single subject (e.g., a reading or math specialist) does not necessarily have to demonstrate subject-matter knowledge across the entire elementary curriculum. Rather, such a teacher must pass a rigorous state test in the subject area or demonstrate competency in that subject through the state's high, objective, uniform state standard of evaluation (HOUSSE) procedures.

On the other hand, new elementary school teachers must pass a rigorous state test in all areas of the elementary school curriculum. As a practical matter, most states are already requiring new teachers, whether generalists or specialists, to pass a general test before they can obtain full state certification. In these states, teachers who choose to pursue subject-area specializations will already have satisfied the requirements for being highly qualified in elementary school.

Specialists in non-core academic subjects (e.g.,vocational or physical education teachers) do not have to meet the highly qualified teacher requirements.

May teachers teach with an emergency certificate or temporary permit and still be considered highly qualified?

No. New teachers must meet their state's definition of highly qualified in the subjects they are teaching at the time of hire, and full state certification is one of these requirements. Experienced teachers teaching under an emergency certificate or temporary permit have until the end of the 2005-06 school year to earn full state certification. Teachers who are part of an alternative certification program already have a bachelor's degree and have demonstrated subject-matter competency. These teachers meet the definition of highly qualified and are given full state certification, under the condition that they will complete certain certification requirements in three years or less.

Do charter school teachers need to be highly qualified?

Yes. All charter school teachers who teach core academic subjects, like other public school teachers, must hold a bachelor's degree and demonstrate competency in the core academic areas in which they teach. They also must have full state certification, unless the state charter school laws specify that such certification is not required for charter school teachers.

For the purposes of demonstrating subject-matter competency for teachers in middle grades, who determines whether middle grades are designated elementary or secondary school?

States may determine whether a grade level is elementary or secondary. Therefore, No Child Left Behind does not directly address the issue of whether teachers in middle grades are to be considered elementary school teachers, with general core content knowledge, or secondary content specialists. For the purposes of determining whether a middle school teacher meets the subject-matter competency requirements of NCLB, states are encouraged to examine, for each core academic subject, the degree of rigor and technicality of the subject matter that a teacher needs to know in relation to the state's content standards and academic achievement standards. The intent of NCLB is to ensure that teachers have sufficient subject-matter knowledge and skills to instruct effectively in the core academic subject they teach.

Is middle school certification allowable under No Child Left Behind?

Yes. The state determines certification requirements.

Are middle and high school teachers in small, rural schools required to be highly qualified in every core academic subject they teach?

Yes. All teachers who teach core academic subjects must be highly qualified in each subject they teach.

The secretary of education recognizes, however, that small, rural districts face special challenges in ensuring that all of their teachers are highly qualified by the end of the 2005-06 school year. As a result, new teachers who teach multiple subjects in eligible small, rural districts must demonstrate competency in one of the subjects they teach; they may have additional time to do the same in additional subjects. The eligible districts must provide high-quality professional development and a program of intensive support or teacher mentoring for these teachers, as they earn additional subject-matter competencies. Teachers will have three years from their date of hire to demonstrate subject-matter competency in additional subjects, and current teachers in eligible small, rural districts will have until the end of the 2006-07 school year to meet the requirements in every subject they teach. To find out about eligibility of a particular district for this extended time, contact the district or state department of education. To find out more about this flexibility, see the secretary of education's letter to the states, available at www.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/secletter/040331.html.

Almost 4,900 districts--or about one-third of all districts nationally--meet the criteria for small, rural districts. There are, however, districts with rural schools that do not meet the eligibility criteria and therefore do not qualify for the flexibility described above. These districts should examine how the resources provided through Title II, Part A and other federal, state, or local resources can be used to improve and expand professional development opportunities, so that experienced teachers who are not yet highly qualified in the subjects they teach receive high-quality, content-specific professional development and meet the HOUSSE standard for each subject they teach. These teachers can also pass rigorous subject-specific state tests or earn a major or advanced certification.

What are other options for rural schools in need of teachers who meet the highly qualified teacher requirements in each core subject?

In addition to the professional development that all rural districts can offer teachers to help them meet the requirements, districts and schools should consider how distance learning arrangements that enlist the services of highly qualified teachers in other localities can help them meet this goal.

Districts may also hire experts (e.g., scientists, engineers or artists) to provide content enrichment and practical applications to the content being taught. As long as these experts are reinforcing the regular teacher and not providing direct instruction in the core content areas, they do not have to meet the highly qualified teacher requirements. Some states have made it possible for experts who meet the subject-matter requirements and have a bachelor's degree to earn full state certification through an alternate route.

Adjunct Teacher Corps. As part of his FY 2005 budget, President Bush has proposed an Adjunct Teacher Corps initiative. This initiative would support partnerships between school districts and public or private institutions that would bring well-qualified individuals from business, especially those involving technology, industry and other areas into secondary schools to teach on an adjunct basis. It would thereby help meet needs in critical shortage areas, such as math and science.

What are the requirements in No Child Left Behind for paraprofessionals or teachers' aides?

Paraprofessionals--aides who support services provided in a school--are a valuable resource in any school setting. No Child Left Behind sets clear guidelines for academic qualifications for individuals assisting in instruction in Title I funded schools or classrooms. The law allows teachers' aides to support instruction if they have met certain academic requirements: They must have at least an associate degree or two years of college, or meet a rigorous standard of quality as demonstrated through a formal state or local assessment. Paraprofessionals in Title I schools do not need to meet the requirements if their role does not involve facilitating instruction. For example, paraprofessionals who serve only as hall monitors do not have to meet the same academic requirements. If a person working with special education students does not provide any instructional support (such as one who solely provides personal care services), that person is not considered a paraprofessional and the academic requirements do not apply.

Paraprofessionals

Contact your state or district for more information about requirements for paraprofessionals in your school. For guidance on paraprofessionals from the U.S. Department of Education, visit www.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/paraguidance.doc.

What is advanced certification or advanced credentialing?

Advanced certification programs around the nation provide opportunities for teachers to challenge themselves as educators and lifelong students, and to take teaching to a new level as master teachers. In addition, for the purposes of meeting the highly qualified teacher requirements in No Child Left Behind, advanced certification and credentialing are vehicles by which middle and high school teachers may demonstrate subject-matter competency in the subjects they teach. Each state may define these terms and choose how to implement them for the purpose of allowing middle and high school teachers to demonstrate subject-matter competency. To learn more about the different opportunities in your state, contact your state certification or credentialing office.


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Last Modified: 08/13/2009