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DC State Board of Education Approves New Definition of Highly Qualified Teacher

Thursday, March 20, 2008
New policy broadens the talent pipeline, boosts retention, and puts DC on a competitive par with neighboring states

(Washington, DC) The DC State Board of Education adopted a resolution on Wednesday evening that will change the federally mandated definition of a Highly Qualified Teacher in the District of Columbia, removing barriers that have kept many effective and credentialed educators out of the classroom. The new definition widens the talent pipeline, increases selectivity, and allows the District of Columbia’s public schools (DCPS and the charter schools) the opportunity to draw from a broad pool of potential recruits, and to retain qualified teachers. The resolution, advanced by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), was unanimously approved by the State Board of Education.

“This action demonstrates the State Board’s commitment to support the school system and provide it with greater flexibility to attract a larger pool of highly qualified and talented teachers who are proficient in various subject areas,” said State Board President Robert Bobb.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) requires states to have “highly qualified” teachers in every classroom. The District’s previous definition is narrower than federal or most states definitions, in that it requires teachers to hold a state license in all of the subject areas that they teach. This means that a fully certified teacher in one subject cannot teach in another without completing a minimum of 33 semester hours of additional coursework—the equivalent of another bachelor’s degree—in that subject, regardless of having a proficient content knowledge or body of work in that area. In one real-life example, a Spanish-speaking, certified math teacher gave up her quest to also teach Spanish because of the burdensome course requirements. (Maryland, by contrast, has no such constraints.)

The previously narrow pipeline meant that hundreds of candidates—history professors at local universities and seasoned classroom teachers alike—were unable to apply for the job in the District of Columbia. 

By contrast, the new definition of “highly qualified” requires full state certification, consistent with DC requirements, but then permits teachers to demonstrate content knowledge in other subject areas through such options as an advanced degree, National Board Certification in the subject area or by passing a content exam.

The resolution will be effective for the 2008-2009 school year and will mostly affect secondary and special education teachers. 

State Superintendent of Education Deborah A. Gist said, “With the new definition there is greater selectivity to hire more qualified teachers from around the country who are eager to teach in the District.”