Highly Qualified Teacher: Everything You Need to Know

This is a status that teachers achieve after successfully completing a course or assessment. It is usually given for a specialized content area. The NCLB Act that became effective in 2002 required all teachers to be highly qualified in the core academic subject(s) taught by them. This was in line with research that showed teachers’ expertise in the academic content they teach is vital for keeping the students engaged and is a significant factor in boosting their levels of achievement.

To become a Highly Qualified Teacher (HQT), teachers needed to fulfill the following criteria:

1.      Hold a bachelor’s degree at the least from a four-year institution;

2.      Have a full state certification or license that’s appropriate to the subject and grade they are teaching; and

3.      Display expertise in each core academic subject they teach.

All these requirements were applicable to all teachers who provided direct education in core content areas. English, mathematics, language arts or reading, science (chemistry, biology, general science, physics, earth science, and physical science), economics, civics and government, foreign languages, theater, music, social studies, art, geography, and history were designated as core academic subjects. The HQT requirements under NCLB covered certified elementary teachers working at the middle level, alternative educators, special educators, and teachers of ESL (English as a second language). 

The scenario changed once the ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) was signed by President Obama into law in December 2015. ESSA decreases federal intervention in state education programs and policies and allots significant decision‐making authority to the states. This act also rolls back NCLB’s prescriptive HQT requirements. Under ESSA, the sole authority rests with the states to decide all teacher certification requirements, including which teachers are qualified to handle core content. Thus, any teacher meeting state certification requirements now automatically becomes “highly qualified.”

As long as the NCLB Act was in effect, teachers met HQT requirements through college coursework, a Praxis examination, or other state programs. But ESSA modified the requirements and regulations to give the states more flexibility in deciding if any changes to the state’s teacher certification and staffing regulations are required or how preparation programs can be revised to comply with the amended state certification criteria and educational policies, among others. The basic idea behind the changes to HQT requirements was to ensure that all teachers continue to feel well‐qualified and prepared for all teaching positions to which they can be assigned.

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