New fed standards rate area teachers highly

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Missouri's classrooms rank among the best in the country for having the most qualified teachers, according to information required by a new federal law.

The U.S. Department of Education on Wednesday released the first nationwide figures on teacher quality under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 for 39 states and the District of Columbia.

Eleven states, including Illinois, did not report information and will be required to send it in or receive no federal money this month.

Missouri was among 13 states to report that 95 percent or higher of classes were taught by "highly qualified" teachers.

Under new NCLB standards, to claim "highly qualified" credentials teachers would have to hold bachelor's degrees in each subject they teach or pass tests that show full knowledge of all the topics.

By the end of the 2005-06 school year, every teacher of every core class in the country must be highly qualified.

Local schools have already begun preparing for that deadline. The Cape Girardeau and Jackson school districts both exceed the state average for percentage of classes taught by highly qualified teachers.

In Cape Girardeau, district totals show 96.4 percent of classrooms are taught by top teachers. Within that district, Blanchard and Clippard elementary schools have the highest number, with 100-percent of classrooms taught by highly qualified teachers.

Central Junior High has the least amount, with 94.2 percent of classrooms meeting that mark.

The Jackson School District as a whole has 98.3 percent of classrooms taught by highly qualified teachers. The Primary Annex, which houses the majority of the district's kindergarten classes, has the least amount at 94.1 percent.

Five schools in Jackson's district -- the middle school, Gordonville, Millersville, North and West Lane elementary schools -- all have 100 percent of classrooms taught by highly qualified teachers.

"There may be some areas in the country where this is a problem, but we're pretty much there already," said Dr. Ron Anderson, Jackson superintendent.

The new requirement is designed to spotlight areas where teacher quality needs improvement, said Celia Sims, who coordinates federal applications for the U.S. Department of Education.

The department will provide help, and the public will get more involved, Sims said.

"In the past, parents have never had this type of information," Sims said. "It's kind of been that dirty little secret over the years, and what we're beginning to do is uncover that."

States are reporting widely varying starting points as they make public the percentage of classes taught by highly qualified teachers. All states must use that framework, which means the figures -- released in response to a Freedom of Information request from The Associated Press -- present the first benchmark of the country's teaching corps under NCLB.

Still, some educators feel national comparisons are imperfect because states set their own standards for licensing and subject mastery by veteran teachers.

Several states indicated problems in coming up with the figures in the way the department wanted: Percentage of classes taught by highly qualified teachers, not the percentage of top teachers themselves.

The distinction is meant to expose situations in which teachers qualified in one subject are assigned to teach classes outside the field they know.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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