Key Policy Letters Signed by the Education Secretary or Deputy Secretary
March 31, 2004
Archived Information

March 31, 2004

Dear Chief State School Officers:

Several months ago I sent you a letter announcing the establishment of the Teacher Assistance Corps, an effort to support States in the implementation of the highly qualified teacher provisions established by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The Corps, made up of your peers, leaders in the field of teacher quality, and key Department staff, visited nearly every State in the nation and the District of Columbia. The initiative was extremely successful in hearing and sharing what is working in various States toward improving teacher quality, dispelling misunderstandings about the law, and, most importantly, informing the Department about the practical challenges facing States in meeting the NCLB highly qualified teacher goals.

As a result of what we learned through the Teacher Assistance Corps visits, I decided that we needed to address some of the specific challenges faced by teachers in the most high-need areas. On March 15, 2004, nearly two years in advance of the deadline for States to meet the highly qualified teacher requirements, I announced opportunities for flexibility in meeting these requirements. The new flexibility is focused on teachers who teach multiple subjects, particularly rural and experienced teachers, and teachers of science. Additional guidance is forthcoming on these points, but in the meantime I wanted to alert you to the new areas of flexibility.

Flexibility for Rural Schools

The first area of flexibility focuses on small schools in rural districts. As Congress recognized in authorizing the Rural Education Achievement Program's (REAP) Small, Rural School Achievement Program (SRSA), these schools face unique challenges in meeting their students' needs. Accordingly, I have decided that States may allow local educational agencies (LEAs) that are eligible to participate in the SRSA program additional time for multiple subject teachers who are highly qualified in one subject to become highly qualified in the additional subjects they teach.

This policy applies to LEAs that meet the following two requirements:

1. The total number of students in average daily attendance at all schools served by the LEA is fewer than 600, OR all schools in the district are located in counties with a population density of fewer than 10 persons per square mile; AND
2. All schools served by the LEA have a school locale code of 7 or 8, as determined by the Secretary, OR the LEA is located in an area of the State defined as rural by the SEA or another governmental agency of the State.

Under this policy, States may permit covered LEAs that currently employ teachers who teach multiple subjects, but do not meet all the criteria for a highly qualified teacher in each of the core academic subjects they teach, to have until the end of the 2006-2007 school year for these teachers to be highly qualified in each subject that they teach. Newly hired teachers in these covered LEAs will have three years from the date of hire to become highly qualified in each core academic subject that they teach. In order to use this flexibility covered LEAs will need to (1) ensure that all teachers in core academic subjects are highly qualified in at least one core academic subject they teach; (2) provide high-quality professional development that increases the teachers' content knowledge in the additional subjects they teach; and (3) provide mentoring or a program of intensive supervision that consists of structured guidance and regular, ongoing support so that they become highly qualified in the additional core academic subject(s) they teach.

States may permit LEAs that meet the average daily attendance or population density requirements on the date of announcement of this policy to continue to remain eligible for this flexibility should they experience any moderate or unexpected changes in average daily attendance or population density, as long as they continue to be defined as "rural" by school locale codes of 7 or 8, or a government agency of the State.

States interested in extending this flexibility to eligible LEAs must submit as soon as possible an amendment to that part of their State Consolidated Application which contains plans for meeting the highly qualified teacher goals. States should not wait until the regularly scheduled Consolidated Application submissions to alert the Department of the employment of this flexibility.

Flexibility for Veteran Teachers of Multiple Subjects

The second area of flexibility is for all experienced middle and secondary school teachers of multiple core academic subjects regardless of the characteristics of the LEA that employs them. NCLB permits States to allow teachers who are not new to the profession to demonstrate subject matter competency differently than new teachers, who are required either to have the equivalent of a bachelor's degree, advanced degree, or advanced certificate in the subject they teach, or take a rigorous test. The option for veteran teachers is called the High, Objective, Uniform State Standard of Evaluation (HOUSSE), which permits States to recognize, among other things, the relevance of a teacher's experience, expertise, and professional training gathered over time in demonstrating subject matter competency. This new flexibility clarifies that States may streamline their HOUSSE procedures by developing a process for current, multi-disciplinary teachers to demonstrate subject matter mastery in each of their subjects through a single set of procedures. Teachers would be expected to meet the same high standards for each subject that they teach, but they can demonstrate their expertise by going through one evaluation process, not a separate evaluation process for each subject. Additional non-regulatory guidance will be provided in the near future citing practical examples of the use of this flexibility.

Flexibility for Science Teachers

The third area of flexibility addresses teachers who provide instruction in the core academic subject of science, and its underlying fields such as biology, chemistry, and physics. The new policy allows States to rely on their own teacher certification requirements for science to determine areas in which teachers must have subject matter knowledge in order to be considered highly qualified under NCLB. For example, if a State currently requires individual certification for teaching biology, chemistry, and physics, the State should require a teacher to demonstrate competency in each field of science. On the other hand, if a State currently certifies high school teachers in the general field of science, a State may require these teachers to demonstrate competency through a "generalist" science test, general science major, or, for experienced teachers, a general science HOUSSE. In the same manner, if a State certifies science teachers in other configurations such as "physical sciences," which combines the fields of physics and chemistry, the State may require teachers to demonstrate competency through a physical science major, or a single HOUSSE or assessment that covers both physics and chemistry.

Teachers are the single most important factor in improving student achievement. I am committed to ensuring that all teachers teaching core academic subjects are highly qualified, especially teachers in poor and disadvantaged areas. This flexibility also comes with responsibility. We expect you to continue to work to ensure that all of your teachers are highly qualified. In addition, consistent with the law districts should work to ensure that poor and disadvantaged students are not disproportionately taught by teachers who are not highly qualified.

Responsibility for improving teacher quality lies not only with the States, but also with the U.S. Department of Education. We will make every effort to support States in their efforts by providing additional guidance on the new flexibility, by providing more technical assistance in developing cohesive and accurate data collection, by establishing reporting systems for tracking progress in meeting the highly qualified teacher goals, and by initiating an effort to address the needs of teachers in making NCLB a success. The Department will also implement a monitoring plan through which the Department will assess the continued progress of the States in attaining their annual measurable objectives for increasing the percentage of core academic classes taught by highly qualified teachers, and the uses of Federal funds to meet the goals, including ESEA Title I, Part A and Title II, Part A funds.

Please feel free to contact Assistant Secretary Ray Simon with any specific questions or concerns you may have regarding the new flexibility at (202) 401-0113.

As I have said before, teachers are the soldiers of democracy. We must make every effort to make certain that all students are taught by high quality teachers, for it is teachers who will make the vision of NCLB a reality. Thank you for the work that you do.



Rod Paige

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Last Modified: 04/06/2004