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IDEA 2004 Close Up: Highly Qualified Teachers

Read about new federal teacher qualification requirements and their effect on your child's education.

By Candace Cortiella, The Advocacy Institute

One of the most anxiously awaited aspects of the recently reauthorized Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was the finalization of the requirements for qualifications for special education teachers. The new requirements, found in IDEA 2004 s definition of Highly Qualified Teachers (HQT), are tightly aligned with the HQT provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which seek to ensure that students have access to high-quality instruction and challenging curriculum.

In updating the IDEA, Congress found that the education of children with disabilities, including learning disabilities (LD), can be made more effective by having high expectations for such children and ensuring their access to the general education curriculum in the regular classroom to the maximum extent possible.

If students with LD are going to succeed in school, they must have access to teachers who know the general curriculum, as well as support from teachers trained in instructional strategies and techniques that address their specific learning needs. Unfortunately, studies have shown that students with LD are often the victims of watered down curriculum and teaching approaches that are neither individualized nor proven to be effective.

This article addresses the essential requirements for Highly Qualified Teachers and their implications for students with learning disabilities.

Q: What basic requirements must teachers meet to be "highly qualified"?

A: First, NCLB maintains the overarching authority for the requirements to be "highly qualified." Those requirements are:

All general education teachers of core academic subjects (see box below) must be "highly qualified" by the end of the 2005-2006 school year. To be considered highly qualified, these teachers must:

  • have a bachelor's degree,
  • have full state certification or licensure, and
  • prove that they know each subject they teach (Elementary school teachers must demonstrate knowledge of teaching reading and math.)

Candace Cortiella's work as Director of the nonprofit The Advocacy Institute focuses on improving the lives of people with learning disabilities, through public policy and other initiatives. The mother of a young adult with learning disabilities, she lives in the Washington, D.C., area.