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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, March 27, 2003

'No Child' mandate raises fresh questions

Once again, what seemed a good-sense requirement in the federal No Child Left Behind Act becomes a logistical nightmare when the details emerge.

The latest headache to face the state school system under that federal education reform law has to do with substitute teachers.

The law requires that all substitute teachers hold at least a bachelor's degree. The state had been hoping that substitutes would be treated as "paraprofessionals" and thus required only to have an associate's (two year) degree by the year 2006.

But a closer study determined that the substitutes must meet the requirements applied to full-time teachers and hold at least a four-year degree.

And because they are considered "new hires" at the beginning of each school year, that higher standard will be applied when the next year begins.

The practical result of all this is that some 1,500 to 1,700 substitutes cannot be hired because they fail to meet the requirement.

In and of itself, this may not be a major hardship because there are far more substitutes on the list than the 1,000 or so who are used on any given day. But the impact will be directly felt in rural and Neighbor Island schools where there is no surplus of substitutes.

To some degree, the Department of Education has to be held responsible for the upset. It's one thing to hope there would be enough time to get everyone qualified; it is quite another to count on it.

And at another level, Congress and the Bush administration must take responsibility for imposing a feel-good mandate on the states without fully considering the costs and logistical difficulty involved in making it work.

Yes, we want every child to be exposed to the best-qualified and most-caring teacher possible. But you cannot make this goal happen overnight simply by passing a law.