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U.S. Department of Education: Promoting Educational Excellence for all Americans

Highly qualified special education teachers (Sec. 300.18)

Comment: One commenter requested including the definition of "highly qualified teacher," as defined in the ESEA, in the regulations.

Discussion: The ESEA defines "highly qualified" with regard to any public elementary or secondary school teacher. For the reasons set forth earlier in this notice, we are not adding definitions from other statutes to these regulations. However, we will include the current definition here for reference.

The term "highly qualified" -

(A) when used with respect to any public elementary school or secondary school teacher teaching in a State, means that--

(i) the teacher has obtained full State certification as a teacher (including certification obtained through alternative routes to certification) or passed the State teacher licensing examination, and holds a license to teach in such State, except that when used with respect to any teacher teaching in a public charter school, the term means that the teacher meets the requirements set forth in the State's public charter school law; and

(ii) the teacher has not had certification or licensure requirements waived on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis;

(B) when used with respect to--

(i) an elementary school teacher who is new to the profession, means that the teacher--

(I) holds at least a bachelor's degree; and

(II) has demonstrated, by passing a rigorous State test, subject knowledge and teaching skills in reading, writing, mathematics, and other areas of the basic elementary school curriculum (which may consist of passing a State-required certification or licensing test or tests in reading, writing, mathematics, and other areas of the basic elementary school curriculum); or

(ii) a middle or secondary school teacher who is new to the profession, means that the teacher holds at least a bachelor's degree and has demonstrated a high level of competency in each of the academic subjects in which the teacher teaches by--

(I) passing a rigorous State academic subject test in each of the academic subjects in which the teacher teaches (which may consist of a passing level of performance on a State-required certification or licensing test or tests in each of the academic subjects in which the teacher teaches); or

(II) successful completion, in each of the academic subjects in which the teacher teaches, of an academic major, a graduate degree, coursework equivalent to an undergraduate academic major, or advanced certification or credentialing; and

(C) when used with respect to an elementary, middle, or secondary school teacher who is not new to the profession, means that the teacher holds at least a bachelor's degree and--

(i) has met the applicable standard in clause (i) or (ii) of subparagraph (B), which includes an option for a test; or

(ii) demonstrates competence in all the academic subjects in which the teacher teaches based on a high objective uniform State standard of evaluation that--

(I) is set by the State for both grade appropriate academic subject matter knowledge and teaching skills;

(II) is aligned with challenging State academic content and student academic achievement standards and developed in consultation with core content specialists, teachers, principals, and school administrators;

(III) provides objective, coherent information about the teacher's attainment of core content knowledge in the academic subjects in which a teacher teaches;

(IV) is applied uniformly to all teachers in the same academic subject and the same grade level throughout the State;

(V) takes into consideration, but not be based primarily on, the time the teacher has been teaching in the academic subject;

(VI) is made available to the public upon request; and

(VII) may involve multiple, objective measures of teacher competency.

Changes: None.

Comment: A few commenters recommended defining the term "special education teacher." Other commenters recommended that States define highly qualified special education teachers and providers. One commenter stated that the regulations should define the role of the special education teacher as supplementing and supporting the regular education teacher who is responsible for teaching course content.

One commenter requested that the regulations clarify that a special education teacher who is certified as a regular education teacher with an endorsement in special education meets the requirements for a highly qualified special education teacher. Another commenter recommended changing the definition of a highly qualified special education teacher so that States cannot provide a single certification for all areas of special education. One commenter requested clarification regarding the highly qualified special education teacher standards for special education teachers with single State endorsements in the area of special education. A few commenters recommended clarifying that when a State determines that a teacher is fully certified in special education, this means that the teacher is knowledgeable and skilled in the special education area in which certification is received. One commenter recommended that teacher qualifications and standards be consistent from State to State.

Discussion: Section 300.18(b), consistent with section 602(10)(B) of the Act, provides that a highly qualified special education teacher must have full State special education certification (including certification obtained through alternative routes to certification) or have passed the State special education teacher licensing examination and hold a license to teach in the State; have not had special education certification or licensure requirements waived on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis; and hold at least a bachelor's degree. Except to the extent addressed in Sec. 300.18(c) and (d), special education teachers who teach core academic subjects must, in addition to meeting these requirements, demonstrate subject-matter competency in each of the core academic subjects in which the teacher teaches.

States are responsible for establishing certification and licensing standards for special education teachers. Each State uses its own standards and procedures to determine whether teachers who teach within that State meet its certification and licensing requirements. Teacher qualifications and standards are consistent from State to State to the extent that States work together to establish consistent criteria and reciprocity agreements. It is not the role of the Federal government to regulate teacher certification and licensure.

Changes: None.

Comment: One commenter stated that LEAs must train special education teachers because most special education teachers are not highly qualified upon graduation from a college program. A few commenters recommended that the regulations encourage SEAs to require coursework for both special education and general education teachers in the areas of behavior management and classroom management. One commenter recommended that the requirements for special education teachers include competencies in reading instruction and in properly modifying and accommodating instruction. Another commenter supported training in special education and related services for general education teachers. One commenter expressed support for collaboration between special education and regular education teachers. Some commenters recommended requiring a highly qualified general education teacher teaching in a self-contained special education classroom to work in close collaboration with the special education teacher assigned to those children. Another commenter stated that the definition of a highly qualified special education teacher will be meaningless if the training for teachers is not consistent across States.

Discussion: Personnel training needs vary across States and it would be inappropriate for the regulations to require training on specific topics. Consistent with Sec. 300.156 and section 612(a)(14) of the Act, each State is responsible for ensuring that teachers, related services personnel, paraprofessionals, and other personnel serving children with disabilities under Part B of the Act are appropriately and adequately prepared and trained and have the content knowledge and skills required to serve children with disabilities.

Changes: None.

Comment: One commenter recommended that the regulations include standards for highly qualified special education paraprofessionals, similar to the requirements under the ESEA.

Discussion: Section Sec. 300.156(b) specifically requires the qualifications for paraprofessionals to be consistent with any State-approved or State-recognized certification, licensing, registration, or other comparable requirements that apply to the professional discipline in which those personnel are providing special education or related services.

In addition, the ESEA requires that paraprofessionals, including special education paraprofessionals who assist in instruction in title I-funded programs, have at least an associate's degree, have completed at least two years of college, or meet a rigorous standard of quality and demonstrate, through a formal State or local assessment, knowledge of, and the ability to assist in instruction in reading, writing, and mathematics, reading readiness, writing readiness, or mathematics readiness, as appropriate. Paraprofessionals in title I schools do not need to meet these requirements if their role does not involve instructional support, such as special education paraprofessionals who solely provide personal care services. For more information on the ESEA requirements for paraprofessionals, see 34 CFR 200.58 and section 1119 of the ESEA, and the Department's nonregulatory guidance, Title I Paraprofessionals (March 1, 2004), which can be found on the Department's Web site at: http://www.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/paraguidance.pdf.

We believe these requirements are sufficient to ensure that children with disabilities receive services from paraprofessionals who are appropriately and adequately trained. Therefore, we decline to include additional standards for paraprofessionals.

Changes: None.

Comment: Numerous commenters requested clarification as to whether early childhood and preschool special education teachers must meet the highly qualified special education teacher standards. Several commenters stated that requiring early childhood and preschool special education teachers to meet the highly qualified special education teacher standards would exceed statutory authority and exacerbate the shortage of special education teachers. A few commenters supported allowing States to decide whether the highly qualified special education teacher requirements apply to preschool teachers.

Discussion: The highly qualified special education teacher requirements apply to all public elementary school and secondary school special education teachers, including early childhood or preschool teachers if a State includes the early childhood or preschool programs as part of its elementary school and secondary school system. If the early childhood or preschool program is not a part of a State's public elementary school and secondary school system, the highly qualified special education teacher requirements do not apply.

Changes: None.

Comment: One commenter requested clarification regarding the scope of the highly qualified special education teacher requirements for instructors who teach core academic subjects in specialized schools, such as schools for the blind, and recommended that there be different qualifications for instructors who provide orientation and mobility instruction or travel training for children who are blind or visually impaired.

One commenter requested adding travel instructors to the list of special educators who need to be highly qualified. Some commenters recommended adding language to include certified and licensed special education teachers of children with low incidence disabilities as highly qualified special education teachers. A few commenters requested that the requirements for teachers who teach children with visual impairments include competencies in teaching Braille, using assistive technology devices, and conducting assessments, rather than competencies in core subject areas. Some commenters requested more flexibility in setting the standards for teachers of children with visual impairments and teachers of children with other low incidence disabilities. One commenter requested clarification regarding the requirements for teachers of children with low incidence disabilities.

Discussion: Consistent with Sec. 300.156 and section 612(a)(14) of the Act, it is the responsibility of each State to ensure that teachers and other personnel serving children with disabilities under Part B of the Act are appropriately and adequately prepared and trained and have the content knowledge and skills to serve children with disabilities, including teachers of children with visual impairments and teachers of children with other low incidence disabilities.

The highly qualified special education teacher requirements apply to all public school special education teachers. There are no separate or special provisions for special education teachers who teach in specialized schools, for teachers of children who are blind and visually impaired, or for teachers of children with other low incidence disabilities and we do not believe there should be because these children should receive the same high quality instruction from teachers who meet the same high standards as all other teachers and who have the subject matter knowledge and teaching skills necessary to assist these children to achieve to high academic standards.

Changes: None.

Comment: One commenter requested clarification on how the highly qualified special education teacher requirements impact teachers who teach children of different ages. A few commenters recommended adding a provision for special education teachers who teach at multiple age levels, similar to the special education teacher who teaches multiple subjects.

Discussion: The Act does not include any special requirements for special education teachers who teach at multiple age levels. Teachers who teach at multiple age levels must meet the same requirements as all other special education teachers to be considered highly qualified. The clear intent of the Act is to ensure that all children with disabilities have teachers with the subject matter knowledge and teaching skills necessary to assist children with disabilities achieve to high academic standards. Therefore, we do not believe there should be different requirements for teachers who teach at multiple age levels.

Changes: None.

Comment: One commenter recommended including specific criteria defining a highly qualified special education literacy teacher.

Discussion: Under Sec. 300.18(a), a special education literacy teacher who is responsible for teaching reading must meet the ESEA highly qualified teacher requirements including competency in reading, as well as the highly qualified special education teacher requirements. We do not believe that further regulation is needed as the Act leaves teacher certification and licensing requirements to States.

Changes: None.

Comment: Many commenters expressed concern that the highly qualified special education teacher standards will make it more difficult to recruit and retain special education teachers. Some commenters stated that most special education teachers will need to hold more than one license or certification to meet the highly qualified special education teacher requirements and that the time and expense needed to obtain the additional licenses or certifications is unreasonable. One commenter stated that schools will have to hire two or three teachers for every one special education teacher, thereby increasing education costs.

One commenter expressed concern about losing special education teachers who teach multiple subjects in alternative education and homebound programs because they will not meet the highly qualified special education teacher requirements. One commenter expressed concern that the requirements set a higher standard for teachers in self-contained classrooms. Another commenter stated that requiring special education teachers in secondary schools to be experts in all subjects is a burden that elementary teachers do not have.

Discussion: The Department understands the concerns of the commenters. However, the clear intention of the Act is to ensure that all children with disabilities have teachers with the subject-matter knowledge and teaching skills necessary to assist children with disabilities achieve to high academic standards.

To help States and districts meet these standards, section 651 of the Act authorizes State Personnel Development grants to help States reform and improve their systems for personnel preparation and professional development in early intervention, educational, and transition services in order to improve results for children with disabilities. In addition, section 662 of the Act authorizes funding for institutions of higher education, LEAs, and other eligible local entities to improve or develop new training programs for teachers and other personnel serving children with disabilities.

Changes: None.

Comment: One commenter requested further clarification regarding the requirements for secondary special education teachers to be highly qualified in the core subjects they teach, as well as certified in special education.

Discussion: Consistent with Sec. 300.18(a) and (b) and section 602(10)(A) and (B) of the Act, secondary special education teachers who teach core academic subjects must meet the highly qualified teacher standards established in the ESEA (which includes competency in each core academic subject the teacher teaches) and the highly qualified special education teacher requirements in Sec. 300.18(b) and section 602(10)(B) of the Act.

Consistent with Sec. 300.18(c) and section 602(10)(C) of the Act, a secondary special education teacher who teaches core academic subjects exclusively to children assessed against alternate achievement standards can satisfy the highly qualified special education teacher requirements by meeting the requirements for a highly qualified elementary teacher under the ESEA, or in the case of instruction above the elementary level, have subject matter knowledge appropriate to the level of instruction being provided, as determined by the State, to effectively teach to those standards.

Changes: None.

Comment: One commenter expressed concern that the highly qualified teacher requirements will drive secondary teachers who teach children with emotional and behavioral disorders out of the field and requested that the requirements be changed to require special education certification in one core area, plus a reasonable amount of training in other areas. Another commenter recommended permitting special education teachers of core academic subjects at the elementary level to be highly qualified if they major in elementary education and have coursework in math, language arts, and science. One commenter recommended that any special education teacher certified in a State prior to 2004 be exempt from having to meet the highly qualified special education teacher requirements.

Discussion: The definition of a highly qualified special education teacher in Sec. 300.18 accurately reflects the requirements in section 602(10) of the Act. To change the regulations in the manner recommended by the commenters would be inconsistent with the Act and the Act's clear intent of ensuring that all children with disabilities have teachers with the subject matter knowledge and teaching skills necessary to assist children with disabilities achieve to high academic standards. Therefore, we decline to change the requirements in Sec. 300.18.

Changes: None.

Comment: One commenter stated that there is a double standard in the highly qualified teacher requirements because general education teachers are not required to be certified in special education even though they teach children with disabilities. Another commenter recommended requiring general education teachers who teach children with disabilities to meet the highly qualified special education teacher requirements.

Discussion: We cannot make the changes suggested by the commenter because the Act does not require general education teachers who teach children with disabilities to be certified in special education. Further, the legislative history of the Act would not support these changes. Note 21 in the U.S. House of Representatives Conference Report No. 108-779 (Conf. Rpt.), p. 169, clarifies that general education teachers who are highly qualified in particular subjects and who teach children with disabilities in those subjects are not required to have full State certification as a special education teacher. For example, a reading specialist who is highly qualified in reading instruction, but who is not certified as a special education teacher, would not be prohibited from providing reading instruction to children with disabilities.

The Act focuses on ensuring that children with disabilities achieve to high academic standards and have access to the same curriculum as other children. In order to achieve this goal, teachers who teach core academic subjects to children with disabilities must be competent in the core academic areas in which they teach. This is true for general education teachers, as well as special education teachers.

Changes: None.

Comment: Some commenters expressed concern that LEAs may reduce placement options for children with disabilities because of the shortage of highly qualified teachers. A few commenters recommended requiring each State to develop and implement policies to ensure that teachers meet the highly qualified special education teacher requirements, while maintaining a full continuum of services and alternative placements to respond to the needs of children with disabilities.

Discussion: It would be inconsistent with the LRE requirements in section 612(a)(5) of the Act for a public agency to restrict the placement options for children with disabilities. Section 300.115, consistent with section 612(a)(5) of the Act, requires each public agency to ensure that a continuum of alternative placements is available to meet the needs of children with disabilities.

The additional requirements requested by the commenter are not necessary because States already must develop and implement policies to ensure that the State meets the LRE and personnel standards requirements in sections 612(a)(5) and (a)(14) of the Act, respectively.

Changes: None.

Comment: One commenter stated that personnel working in charter schools should meet the same requirements as all other public school personnel. Several commenters expressed concern regarding the exemption of charter school teachers from the highly qualified special education teacher requirements. One commenter stated that while a special education teacher in a charter school does not have to be licensed or certified by the State if the State's charter school law does not require such licensure or certification, all other elements of the highly qualified special education teacher requirements should apply to charter school teachers, including demonstrated competency in core academic subject areas.

Discussion: The certification requirements for charter school teachers are established in a State's public charter school law, and may differ from the requirements for full State certification for teachers in other public schools. The Department does not have the authority to change State charter school laws to require charter school teachers to meet the same requirements as all other public school teachers.

In addition to the certification requirements established in a State's public charter school law, if any, section 602(10) of the Act requires charter school special education teachers to hold at least a bachelor's degree and, if they are teaching core academic subjects, demonstrate competency in the core academic areas they teach. We will add language in Sec. 300.18(b) to clarify that special education teachers in public charter schools must meet the certification or licensing requirements, if any, established by a State's public charter school law.

Changes: We have added the words "if any" in Sec. 300.18(b)(1)(i) to clarify that special education teachers in public charter schools must meet any certification or licensing requirements established by a State's public charter school law.

Comment: One commenter stated that the regulations use the terms "highly qualified" and "fully certified" in a manner that implies they are synonymous, and recommended that the regulations maintain the distinction between the two terms.

Discussion: Full State certification is determined under State law and policy and means that a teacher has fully met State requirements, including any requirements related to a teacher's years of teaching experience. For example, State requirements may vary for first-year teachers versus teachers who are not new to the profession. Full State certification also means that the teacher has not had certification or licensure requirements waived on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis.

The terms "highly qualified" and "fully certified" are synonymous when used to refer to special education teachers who are not teaching core academic subjects. For special education teachers teaching core academic subjects, however, both full special education certification or licensure and subject matter competency are required.

Changes: We have changed the heading to Sec. 300.18(a) and the introductory material in Sec. 300.18(a) and (b)(1) for clarity.

Comment: A few commenters recommended prohibiting States from creating new categories to replace emergency, temporary, or provisional licenses that lower the standards for full certification in special education.

Discussion: We do not believe it is necessary to add the additional language recommended by the commenters. Section 300.18(b)(1)(ii) and section 602(10)(B)(ii) of the Act are clear that a teacher cannot be considered a highly qualified special education teacher if the teacher has had special education certification or licensure waived on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis. This would include any new certification category that effectively allows special education certification or licensure to be waived on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis.

Changes: None.

Comment: Some commenters supported alternative route to certification programs for special education teachers. One commenter stated that these programs are necessary to increase the number of highly qualified teachers and will help schools on isolated tribal reservations recruit, train, and retain highly qualified teachers. However, numerous commenters expressed concerns and objections to alternative route to certification programs for special education teachers. Several commenters stated that allowing individuals making progress in an alternative route to certification program to be considered highly qualified and fully certified creates a lower standard, short-changes children, is not supported by any provision in the Act, and undermines the requirement for special education teachers to be fully certified. One commenter stated that this provision is illogical and punitive to higher education teacher training programs because it allows individuals in an alternative route to certification program to be considered highly qualified and fully certified during their training program, while at the same time individuals in regular teacher training programs that meet the same requirements as alternative route to certification programs are not considered highly qualified or fully certified. One commenter argued that an individual participating in an alternative route to certification program would need certification waived on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis, which means the individual has not met the requirements in Sec. 300.18(b)(1)(ii). Another commenter stated that three years is not enough time for a teacher enrolled in an alternative route to certification program to assume the functions of a teacher.

Discussion: While we understand the general objections to alternative route to certification programs expressed by the commenters, the Department believes that alternative route to certification programs provide an important option for individuals seeking to enter the teaching profession. The requirements in Sec. 300.18(b)(2) were included in these regulations to provide consistency with the requirements in 34 CFR 200.56(a)(2)(ii)(A) and the ESEA, regarding alternative route to certification programs. To help ensure that individuals participating in alternative route to certification programs are well trained, there are certain requirements that must be met as well as restrictions on who can be considered to have obtained full State certification as a special education teacher while enrolled in an alternative route to certification program. An individual participating in an alternative route to certification program must (1) hold at least a bachelor's degree and have demonstrated subject-matter competency in the core academic subject(s) the individual will be teaching; (2) assume the functions of a teacher for not more than three years; and (3) demonstrate satisfactory progress toward full certification, as prescribed by the State. The individual also must receive, before and while teaching, high-quality professional development that is sustained, intensive, and classroom-focused and have intensive supervision that consists of structured guidance and regular ongoing support.

It was the Department's intent to allow an individual who wants to become a special education teacher, but does not plan to teach a core academic subject, to enroll in an alternative route to certification program and be considered highly qualified, provided that the individual holds at least a bachelor's degree. This requirement, however, was inadvertently omitted in the NPRM. Therefore, we will add appropriate references in Sec. 300.18(b)(3) to clarify that an individual participating in an alternative route to certification program in special education who does not intend to teach a core academic subject, may be considered a highly qualified special education teacher if the individual holds at least a bachelor's degree and participates in an alternative route to certification program that meets the requirements in Sec. 300.18(b)(2).

Changes: Appropriate citations have been added in Sec. 300.18(b)(3) to clarify the requirements for individuals enrolled in alternative route to special education teacher certification programs.

Comment: A few commenters recommended more specificity in the requirements for teachers participating in alternative route to certification programs, rather than giving too much discretion to States to develop programs that do not lead to highly qualified personnel. However, one commenter recommended allowing States the flexibility to create their own guidelines for alternative route to certification programs.

Several commenters recommended clarifying the requirements for the teacher supervising an individual who is participating in an alternative route to certification program. One commenter recommended requiring supervision, guidance, and support by a professional with expertise in the area of special education in which the teacher desires to become certified.

Discussion: Consistent with Sec. 300.18(b)(2)(ii), States are responsible for ensuring that the standards for alternative route to certification programs in Sec. 300.18(b)(2)(i) are met. It is, therefore, up to each State to determine whether to require specific qualifications for the teachers responsible for supervising teachers participating in an alternative route to certification program.

Changes: None.

Comment: One commenter requested clarification regarding the roles and responsibilities of special education teachers who do not teach core academic subjects.

Discussion: Special education teachers who do not directly instruct children in any core academic subject or who provide only consultation to highly qualified teachers of core academic subjects do not need to demonstrate subject-matter competency in those subjects. These special educators could provide consultation services to other teachers, such as adapting curricula, using behavioral supports and interventions, or selecting appropriate accommodations for children with disabilities. They could also assist children with study skills or organizational skills and reinforce instruction that the child has already received from a highly qualified teacher in that core academic subject.

Changes: None.

Comment: Many commenters recommended including language in the regulations to clarify that special education teachers who do not teach core academic subjects and provide only consultative services must restrict their services to areas that supplement, not replace, the direct instruction provided by a highly qualified general education teacher. One commenter recommended that States develop criteria for teachers who provide consultation services. Another commenter stated that special education teachers should not work on a consultative basis.

Discussion: The definition of consultation services and whether a special education teacher provides consultation services are matters best left to the discretion of each State. While States may develop criteria to distinguish consultation versus instructional services, the Act and the ESEA are clear that teachers who provide direct instruction in a core academic subject, including special education teachers, must meet the highly qualified teacher requirements, which include demonstrated competency in each of the core academic subjects the teacher teaches.

Changes: None.