Some districts will be victims of federal law

EDITORIAL: No Child Left Behind Act requirements pose extra challenges for smaller districts like Manville

   Two U.S. Congressmen — Rep. Mike Ferguson and Rep. Rodney Frelinghysen — visited Hillsborough High School Tuesday hoping to announce changes to the No Child Left Behind Act.
   The act, passed in 2001, sets a series of guidelines for schools across the nation to meet, including students achievement standards as determined by tests and teacher qualifications as determined by training and experience.
   The congressmen wanted to discuss a change already being made to the testing requirements of the law, but they were greeted by a skeptical group of students and administrators with questions about almost every other part of the law.
   As we reported in last week’s issue, requirements for teachers may be having unintended consequences which could prove very troublesome for small districts like Manville.
   Certainly no one would argue the merits of making sure all teachers are capable and qualified to do their jobs — but problems arise when one tries to set particular standards.
   For teachers, it seems reasonable to consider what courses they studied in college and what courses they’ve taught since graduation. Most teachers gravitate towards subjects they are interested in and studied most in college — such as history, English, science and math — which fits right in with the guidelines set by the federal government.
   But what about teachers who either teach multiple subjects or work with small, special-needs classes?
   That’s where Manville could run into trouble with the law — if the district can’t use teachers in multiple subject areas, some classes may end up having to be dropped.
   A review of teachers’ current qualifications found almost all are already meeting the federal standards, but seven may need additional college credits to stay in their current positions.
   We want to stress that in no circumstance has anyone suggested that the teachers are not doing their jobs and doing their jobs well. There is a distinct difference between being a good teacher and meeting the government’s criteria for the NCLB.
   But a teacher assigned to pick up a middle-school class in, say, literature because of higher-than-usual enrollment in the subject for one semester, could be classified as "not qualified" because she didn’t major in literature in college or hasn’t taught it for 20 years.
   We expect provisions will be made for small districts like Manville to be able to work around these requirements, but until then the requirements will cause extra headaches for district officials.
   Manville can’t afford to hire specialized teachers for every subject, nor can we afford to eliminate the subjects without falling behind other districts.