Highly Qualified?

Ken Gorrellby Ken Gorrell, Weirs Times Contributing Writer

“Two Thumbs Up!” “Five Stars!” “Nine out of Ten!” Consumer-driven rankings and professional assessments of services and products are a ubiquitous part of our buying experience in every major area except one: Public education. This must change if we are ever to improve the system we depend upon to help us develop the next generation of informed citizen. Based on a letter I saw from the principal of my local high school, I won’t be holding my breath.
Signed by Winnisquam Regional High School principal Tom Laliberte, the letter to parents trumpeted the news that “At this time all classroom teachers at Winnisquam Regional High School meet or exceed the statutory requirements for State Certification and HQT.”
HQT stands for “highly qualified.” Or perhaps should I write it as “Highly Qualified,” since it’s a constructed title made up by the federal and state Departments of Education that doesn’t mean what you might expect. While I’m sure Winnisquam employs some teachers who would earn the title “highly qualified” by any objective measure, no such measure exists. Teacher unions, the education bureaucracy, and hubris are largely to blame.
Playing the blame game won’t solve the problem, so let’s move beyond it and look at the facts. The HQT Assurance Form, available on the state Dept. of Ed. website, provides the criteria for being designated as “Highly Qualified”:
The teacher meets HQT requirements via one of the following options:
Making progress on Alt V Cert Plan in core academic subject taught;
Passed academic subject test;
Completed academic major/coursework equivalent;
Completed HOUSSE/HQT Plan
Yes, you read that right: Only ONE option is required for HQT status from a list that includes passing an academic subject test and “making progress” on a plan to gain alternative certification in the core subject area the teacher was hired to teach. Would you consider your doctor, lawyer, plumber, or electrician “highly qualified” based on such criteria?
What would keep a certified teacher from failing to achieve the HQT label? The form provides the following reason(s): No Bachelor’s Degree; No Certification in appropriate grade range; Has not demonstrated content knowledge through the options available; and Other (please specify). That’s it.
The Winnisquam principal ended his letter to parents with “…we look forward to continue to deliver quality instruction to all of our students.” This from a school that consistently scores poorly on basic proficiency tests. Fewer than half the students at WRHS test at proficient or above in writing and math, for instance. Being able to identify and reward the best teachers might help the school improve this deficiency.
We have some highly-qualified teachers in classrooms across the state. We also have some teachers who barely meet minimum requirements as a normal person (i.e., someone not in the education establishment) would define such a threshold, and some who should probably find another career field. This HQT program doesn’t let anyone differentiate between the two, though students and parents could probably come close to doing so if asked.
Teacher evaluations has been a hot topic for quite a while, and will likely remain so until we accept that teachers should be treated like other professionals, not protected by tenure and unions that stand in the way of implementing meaningful assessment systems. Last year the Representative Assembly of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, passed a resolution that “standardized tests, even if deemed valid and reliable, may not be used to support any employment action against a teacher.” So much for using objective criteria to determine teacher effectiveness.
During my time in the Navy and working for Fortune 500 companies I was evaluated regularly and thoroughly. None of the evaluation systems was perfect, but each accomplished the mission of sorting and ranking, identifying the “hot runners” and those not quite making the grade. In the civilian world these systems informed retention decisions and salary actions, as well as helping to craft training plans to improve skill areas required for professional development and advancement. NH teachers and students don’t benefit from a similar system because there is no similar system.
There are arguments to be made on all sides of this complex issue — the devil is always in the details — but there should be no disagreement about the need for a teacher evaluation system tied to measurable outcomes. A good first step to that end would be to get rid of meaningless and misleading labels like “Highly Qualified.”

If you are interested in being part of a “miracle” next April, please let me know. I can be reached at kengorrell@gmail.com.