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More Chicago School Teachers May Fall Short--Or They May Be Victims of Bad Journalism
Ohanian Comment: I have heard--in person--just how disdainful Rossi is of Chicago teachers, so I suspect this is not news uncolored by personal enmity. I have been as critical of the Chicago schools as anybody, but this article clearly is unfair. To give a parent of special ed students a platform for complaint--without allowing a Chicago offical to speak to the complexities--and absurdities--of NCLB "qualified teacher" rules when applied to special ed teachers is plain bad journalism. I suspect Rossi set out to trash Chicago public schools, not to report a complicated story.

So many teachers were exempted from the crackdown that some parents said they felt "left behind'' by Chicago's interpretation of the No Child Left Behind law, a dramatic education overhaul signed by President Bush in January 2002.

Even federal officials said Chicago should have reviewed the credentials of far more teachers before it sent out letters to parents whose children were taught for 20 consecutive days by teachers not deemed "highly qualified.'' And, they said, the system is legally required to mail out such letters all year long, not just at the beginning of the school year, as Chicago officials plan.

This week's letters were based on a massive, time-consuming audit of Chicago teacher credentials, which found that 90.5 percent of teachers in major subject areas -- or 1,472 -- were highly qualified under the law, up from 88 percent last year.

However, this year's better numbers reflect state changes that made it easier for many middle school teachers to be highly qualified.

In addition, 3,100 special education teachers weren't counted this year because Chicago officials said they had not received federal guidance about them. Like last year, about 1,000 substitute teachers were not included.

The bottom line, said Don Moore, executive director of Designs for Change, is that teachers who are most likely to have the worst credentials were never audited.

"The system is hiding the bad news about the students with the greatest needs,'' Moore said. "It's a serious underestimation of the problem. More letters should have been sent out.''

In one strange twist, Chicago officials said the parent of a child taught by more than one minimally qualified substitute teacher over 20 days would not receive a letter because Chicago's new $750,000 electronic database system only allows it to examine teachers who taught the same class for 20 days. Officials said they hope to eventually track substitutes, but can't yet.

Carolyn Snowbarger, U.S. Department of Education special assistant for teacher quality, said that's not how the law reads.

"A letter should go out if a child has been instructed by a teacher or teachers who are not highly qualified for 20 days,'' Snowbarger said. M

In addition, Snowbarger said, the department issued guidance on special education teachers on Sept. 15, so such teachers, if not highly qualified, should have triggered letters. The Chicago public school audit was based on teachers who taught through Sept. 30.

Patricia Jones, parent of three special education children at Songhai Elementary, desperately wants to know the credentials of her kids' teachers but said "the special education children are being left behind by this No Child Left Behind law.''

"They should not have them be the last to know,'' Jones said. "They are already last to get whatever.''

Moore said the audit raised serious questions about some schools where principals claimed that huge percentages of their staff -- as high as 50 percent -- were special education teachers or "non-instructional'' personnel exempt from triggering letters.

Rather than use "the honor system,'' Moore said, Chicago auditors should spot-check their own audit.

— Rosalind Rossi
More Chicago school teachers may fall short
Chicago Sun-Times


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