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NM PED gets waiver on teacher qualifications

SANTA FE – The federal government has given the New Mexico Public Education Department a first-of-its-kind waiver on teacher qualification requirements.

The waiver, announced Tuesday, will allow highly rated teachers – via a controversial teacher evaluation system – to teach classes in other subjects and grade levels without having to meet the qualifications stipulated by No Child Left Behind.

It will not apply to new teachers, and school districts will be able to decide whether to take advantage of the waiver, PED officials said.

“This decision is great news for every school district in New Mexico,” Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said. “Providing flexibility for districts to better utilize the skills of their most effective teachers will expand the access our students have to excellent instruction. This is a big win for New Mexico’s students.”

Under the waiver, a physics teacher with a rating of “effective,” “highly effective” or “exemplary” would be able to teach an algebra course, for instance, without having to pass exams or undergo training on the subject.

Nearly 74 percent of statewide public school teachers received evaluations of “effective,” “highly effective” or “exemplary” under the second year of ratings, which were released earlier this month by the Public Education Department.

In statements released by the PED, several superintendents in rural school districts said the waiver would help students by providing more flexibility to teachers and administrators.

“If one of our teachers has a proven record of achieving results for students in agriculture, they should be able to teach botany without jumping through bureaucratic hurdles,” said Audie Brown, the superintendent of the Estancia Municipal School Department.

However, Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, said Tuesday that the waiver could actually hurt students, because having teachers without formal qualifications in a subject area could lead to more superficial instruction.

“I don’t know how they think they’re going to get better outcomes by doing this,” said Trujillo, a former educator and union leader.

New Mexico has also received a waiver from the U.S. Education Department on a separate No Child Left Behind requirement regarding standardized testing. In exchange for the flexibility, the state agreed to enact several initiatives aimed at improving school accountability, including the teacher evaluations.

A federal education law, No Child Left Behind was signed into law in 2001 by then-President George W. Bush.

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