ESEA must support professional growth of paraprofessionals

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Congress has turned its attention to educator support and professional preparation under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the AFT is urging lawmakers to preserve in a reauthorized ESEA those provisions that help paraprofessionals get the knowledge and training they need to continue to make outstanding classroom contributions.

Thirteen years ago, the law (known in its current version as No Child Left Behind) put in place qualification requirements for paraprofessionals working in Title I schools. The effect of those requirements has been to help close a chapter when school systems hired paraprofessionals "with little or no experience or education background, and provided no professional training," AFT President Randi Weingarten and Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson reminded Senate leaders in a Jan. 27 letter. Before those requirements became law, paraprofessionals "were often assigned classroom tasks for which, through no fault of their own, they were neither prepared nor equipped.

"Today, because of the [ESEA] requirements put in place, paraprofessionals are qualified and prepared to provide needed instructional support," Weingarten and Johnson wrote, pointing to school systems such as Albuquerque, Baltimore and Pittsburgh as examples of places where these provisions are contributing to better student outcomes. "The ESEA discussion draft currently being considered by your committee would roll back the qualification requirements for paraprofessionals working in Title I schools" and allow only state certification and licensure requirements to hold sway—if such provisions exist at all.

"Many states never implemented their own standards" because there are federal standards for Title I school professionals whose positions were funded under ESEA, the AFT leaders warned. "Having ESEA-established standards for employment, training and responsibilities ensures consistency in the qualifications and deployment of paraprofessionals across states and grade levels, and ensures that districts hire qualified individuals to work as paraprofessionals and provide the necessary support they need to guarantee students success."

The AFT letter was delivered to leaders of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Jan. 27, the same day the panel heard testimony on the topic of ESEA and its support for educators.

[Mike Rose]