State says nearly all teachers strong in core subjects

Saturday, January 24, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Teachers in 95 percent of Missouri's public school classes were "highly qualified" by federal standards to teach their subject matter last year, state officials say, and plans are being made for raising the percentage.

But at least one education advocacy group questions the usefulness of such a measurement, which all states were required to provide late last year under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2002.

The federal law mandates that by the end of the 2005-06 school year, every teacher of every so-called core class -- such as English and math -- must be "highly qualified."

Teachers meet that definition if they have at least a bachelor's degree, have received state certification and demonstrate "content knowledge" of the subjects they teach.

Missouri's high percentage of classes with "highly qualified" teachers stems partly from the state's rigorous certification process, said Dee Beck, federal programs coordinator for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Altogether, 20 states reported that at least 90 percent of their public school classes were taught by "highly qualified" teachers in 2002-03.

Some advocacy groups say such statistics seem to be at odds with other measurements of education quality required by the law. For example, half of Missouri's public schools were listed last year as failing to show sufficient progress toward the law's goal of having all students proficient in reading and math.

"If you start by saying everything's fine, then that undermines your ability to develop effective strategies to improve teacher quality," said Kevin Carey, a policy analyst for the Washington, D.C.-based Education Trust, a nonprofit group that advocates for minority and poor students.

And Beck pointed out that the criteria for meeting the federal standard don't necessarily indicate how a teacher will perform in the classroom.

"I still think this concept of 'highly qualified' is very, very important, but I also recognize that it measures credentials and training," she said. "We have to look at student results and the background kids come to school with in order to measure effectiveness."

Under the federal law, states are developing plans that would allow veteran teachers to achieve "highly qualified" status without taking a content area test, using factors such as experience, coursework and professional development.

Missouri has developed a preliminary plan and is considering whether changes should be made, but the plan should be in place this summer, Beck said. The plan probably will consider teaching experience but also measure content expertise, and Missouri will look to what other states have done, she said.

The plan might be needed if, for example, someone had a strong record as a middle school teacher but had actually been certified to teach elementary school. It might also apply, Beck said, if a biology teacher at a small high school were also asked to teach physics but never passed the state test for that subject.


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