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Can districts meet the new federal teacher goal? (Notebook: usable education information from schools, business, research and professional organizations).

President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act mandates that by 2005 only highly qualified teachers be employed in the public school system. It's a noble goal, but is it realistic?

Administrators began debating the question before the bill was signed in January.

"We are in the midst of a teacher shortage nationwide," says Benny Gooden, superintendent of Fort Smith Public Schools, a rural district in Arkansas.

"We have a great deal of difficulty securing teachers, much less those who have a college major in every field they are assigned to teach." His district employs 900 teachers, 10 to 20 of whom are provisionally licensed. All have college degrees and many are certified in their specific fields.

One critic of the teacher mandate is brutally blunt. "It's fantasy legislation," insists Wayne Johnson, president of the California Teachers Association. He told the Sacramento Bee the government might as well be asking "all teachers have a Ph.D. in four years. It's not going to happen."

He cites the state's difficulty in attracting teachers, even with incentives such as loans, grants and housing subsidies. About 42,000 of California's 301,000 public school teachers have emergency teaching credentials, he told the paper. That number is expected to reach 65,000 this year.

A study released early this year from Texas A&M University reported that 24 percent of all teachers in the Lone Star State were not certified to teach in their subject areas.

Administrators in Texas, though, are already working to meet the new federal goal. Increased funding to improve teacher quality will help, says Debbie Graves Ratcliffe, a senior director at the Texas Education Agency. The U.S. Department of Education has made more money available for professional development. Texas will spend $231 million this year for teacher quality programs, $70 million more than was spent last year.

The state's increase is based, in part on funding coming from the federal government thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act. The legislation also gives districts more flexibility for Title I spending. In some instances, Title I funds can be shifted to pay for teachers' salaries, bonuses or teacher quality programs.

Will this be enough? No one can answer that, says Denise Cardinal, spokesperson for the National Education Association. Adding to the confusion are unanswered questions about what the government legislation means when it defines a teacher as "fully qualified." The act states that all instructors who teach in a school receiving Title I funds be licensed, certified and demonstrate competency. "Does that mean that a current teacher will have to take a test to keep her job?" asks Cardinal. The act stipulates that all newly-hired teachers have bachelor's degrees and demonstrate competency in their subject areas.

The NEA has created a panel to sort through questions with federal education administrators; the American Association of School Administrators is also working at interpreting the new legislation. It is common for teachers who are certified in one subject, such as chemistry, to teach physics or a related course, acknowledges Bruce Hunter, director of public policy. "It is not clear yet if the new law requires complete certification in all subjects."

Hunter urges administrators to work toward meeting the federal goal while sorting through the fine print--and to increase the profession's appeal. To that end, AASA is working on legislation that would grant a $4,000 tax credit to a teacher or principal who works in an impoverished area. "We voiced concerns when the law was going through, but now it is our job to make this work," he says.

www.ed.gov, www.aasa.org, www.nea.org
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Title Annotation:No Child Left Behind Act
Author:Angelo, Jean Marie
Publication:District Administration
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2002
Words:604
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