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HOUSE APPROVES TEACHER BILLS: Teacher Preparation and Loan Forgiveness Expanded

On July 9, the House of Representatives passed two pieces of legislation that would help states and school districts meet the “highly qualified teacher” requirements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The Ready to Teach Act, H.R. 2211, sponsored by Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) would hold teacher-training programs accountable for the teachers they produce and ensure that they possess the necessary skills to be highly qualified and ready to teach when they enter the classroom. It would also ensure that states only allow highly qualified individuals to teach in their schools.

The second bill, the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act, H.R. 438, sponsored by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) would build on the current $5,000 loan forgiveness provision in the Higher Education Act and would increase college loan forgiveness to up to $17,500 for every reading, math, science, and special education teacher who teaches for five years in a Title I school (those with a poverty rate over 40 percent).

Another change to the existing law was made at the committee level. At the behest of Reps. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Dale Kildee (D-MI)House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-OH) inserted a provision into Wilson’s bill that no longer requires loan forgiveness candidates to wait until the end of their five-year service to have their loans forgiven. According to the new provision, loan forgiveness candidates will receive up to $2,625, or 15 percent (whichever is less) of the total of their outstanding loan obligation after the completion of their second year of service; up to $2,625, or 15 percent after their third year, up to $4,375, or 25 percent after their fourth year; and up to $8,750, or 50 percent, after their fifth year. If a person begins to receive money toward loan forgiveness, but fails to complete the five-year requirement, he or she must repay the federal government the amount he or she received.

Although both bills easily passed the House with bipartisan support, many Democrats took issue with Wilson’s bill because it only includes additional loan forgiveness for math, science, and special education teachers. An amendment by Rep. George Miller (D-CA) added loan forgiveness for reading teachers. Because of the rule adopted by the House Rules Committee, several Democrats were unable to offer amendments that would have extended additional loan forgiveness to teachers in all subjects who teach in high-poverty schools.

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), a member of the House Rules Committee, pointed out that the bill was meant to “aim this money, these loan forgiveness opportunities, at the teachers who we need most.” But later during floor debate, Boehner explained that funds for this bill are quite limited and that expanding loan forgiveness to other teachers would fall outside the constraints of the available funds. Therefore, he added, covering more teachers would result in covering fewer high-poverty schools.

In Left Out and Left Behind: NCLB and the American High School, the Alliance for Excellent Education found that the problem of teachers teaching out of field exists across all fields in high-poverty schools, including those not covered by the legislation. Most notably, 53.9 percent of all history teachers lack a major or minor in history. (See chart below.)

Percentage of public secondary school students taught by a teacher without a major or minor in that field
English Math Science Biology Physics/
Chemistry
Social
Studies
History
Total All Students 20.8% 26.6% 16.5% 38.5% 52.6% 13.4% 53.9%
By Achievement Level of Student
Low-Achieving 24.7 33.5 20.4 42.3 66.8 14.3 55.1
High-Achieving 11.2 20.4 7.2 20.7 43.0 11.2 51.1
By Grade Level
9 15.7 18.1 10.7 27.9 61.7 8.7 48.7
10 11.1 16.8 8.9 29.3 45.7 8.8 51.1
11 11.2 15.9 6.4 23.5 36.8 6.8 47.0
12 13.9 24.2 13.1 25.3 41.0 11.3 62.4

Source: R.M. Ingersoll, The Problem of Under-qualified Teachers in American Secondary Schools, 1999.

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