A tardy move

January 05, 2007

They are in classrooms, working along with teachers to help students achieve. But at least 75 classroom aides in Baltimore have been threatened with transfers because they have not met federal guidelines for qualifications. The proposed transfers have been handled in a manner that is clumsy at best and careless at worst.

Having dragged its feet, the school system may get some relief; the State Department of Education will seek to extend the deadline another six months. School officials must make the most of that time and fix the problem.

Teacher aides provide another experienced hand in the classroom. They assist teachers by working one-on-one or in groups with students who need extra help, among other things. The federal No Child Left Behind law requires aides in schools serving high-poverty populations to be qualified, meaning that each has an associate's degree or has passed a state test.

The deadline for meeting the requirement was supposed to be last June; of Maryland's 24 school districts, Baltimore was the only one unable to meet the deadline. It was still a problem when schools opened last August, but it wasn't until recently - in the middle of the school year and on short notice - that local school officials tried to resolve the issue by transferring some qualified aides serving in higher-income schools to low-income schools, while aides in those schools were transferred to the wealthier schools.

All students are entitled to have qualified classroom help. And just as administrators have had to put more effort into getting highly qualified teachers in classrooms, they should have been keeping track of how many aides needed to upgrade their credentials and help them do so. The system now has that chance, as the state plans to ask the federal government to give Baltimore until June to comply and interim schools CEO Charlene Cooper Boston has pledged to come up with a solution. It's about time.

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