A HOUSSE Built on Quicksand? Exploring the Teacher Quality Conundrum for Secondary Special Education Teachers

Feb. 28, 2010

Source: Teacher Education and Special Education, v. 33 no. 1, (February 2010) p. 55-69.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this study, the authors focus on one highly contested provision of the No Child Left Behind Act, which allows states flexibility in how the quality of teachers is defined and evaluated: the high, objective, uniform state standard of evaluation (HOUSSE) option.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose was to investigate states' interpretations of federal teacher quality regulations as they relate to HOUSSE provisions for secondary special education teachers, as well as the perceived challenges in the implementation of federal teacher quality requirements.
The authors conducted a national survey of states to evaluate how federal teacher quality guidelines for secondary special education teachers are being interpreted and implemented.

Research Questions

In this study, the authors addressed the following questions:
Question 1: What challenges are states and districts experiencing in the implementation of federal teacher quality regulations for teachers, including secondary special education teachers?
Question 2: To what extent do states differ in their perception of the rigor of components typically included in state HOUSSE plans as measures of content knowledge?
Question 3: To what extent is the phasing out of HOUSSE considered a viable strategy for improving teacher quality?

A total of 20 individuals representing 18 states completed the survey.
The respondents held a variety of positions representing a variety of perspectives, including those on teacher licensing or certification, special education, educational accountability, professional development, higher education (general and special education), and school districts.

The majority of respondents were male (65%) and Caucasian (95%).
55% of the respondents had either extensive or some participation in the development of their states' HOUSSE plans and 90% of respondents had extensive or sufficient knowledge of their states' HOUSSE plans.

Findings indicate that significant variability in the interpretation and implementation of the HOUSSE provision exists across states and that numerous challenges with the implementation of federal teacher quality requirements persist, including funding for support teachers, a lack of clear federal guidance, and difficulties with holding districts accountable for teacher quality provisions.
In addition, the results reveal a decided preference for course-based evidence of teachers' content knowledge over other types of evidence.

Policy Implications

The authors identify two major policy implications that bear consideration with regard to ensuring teacher quality for secondary special education teachers.

Defining Rigor through HOUSSE
Rigor has apparently been defined in widely varying ways across several states and across general and special education, as evidenced in HOUSSE provisions. This lends credence to the argument that HOUSSE can easily constitute a loophole - just at the time when national concern for what students who have disabilities learn has finally come to the forefront of the education landscape.

The Undue Policy Burden of Teacher Quality on Secondary Special Educators
In the current policy context, the HOUSSE provision has the potential to provide a rigorous alternative, but in practice, it appears quite susceptible to the loophole critique. The seemingly insurmountable challenge of ensuring the quality of secondary special educators may warrant an examination of school policy and practice from a different perspective.

One way to reconceptualize policy with respect to how secondary special education teachers are prepared is not to expect the special education teacher to be an expert in all content areas in the depth that secondary teaching demands but rather to expect depth of knowledge in one content area along with special education expertise.

Updated: Jun. 15, 2010