Report: Alaska's teachers fall behind others

Findings based on new federal benchmarks for schools

Posted: Tuesday, October 21, 2003

WASHINGTON - Alaska reported only 16 percent of its teachers as being "highly qualified" under standards laid out by the federal No Child Left Behind act.

But the state has until the 2005-06 school year to meet the standards, and most teachers in the state have not yet had the opportunity to take the tests that establish mastery in the subjects they teach, administrators in Alaska said.

Every state must make public the percentage of classes taught by "highly qualified teachers" - that is, teachers who have a bachelor's degree, state certification and demonstrated mastery of every subject they teach.

All states must use those measures, and the new figures - released in response to a Freedom of Information request from The Associated Press - present the first benchmark of the country's teaching corps. Still, national comparisons are far from perfect because states set their own licensing standards and standards of subject mastery for veteran teachers.

On the low end in the new figures: Alaska, which reported that just 16 percent of its public school classes were taught by highly qualified teachers. Two other states reported that less than half of their classes made the mark: Alabama, at 35 percent, and California, at 48 percent.

Wisconsin reported that almost 99 percent of classes had top teachers, and Idaho, Arkansas, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Utah, Pennsylvania and Wyoming all reported totals of at least 95 percent.

"In many of the states that are reporting 99 percent or whatever, they already require some sort of test in the content area to become certified," said Cynthia Curran, who oversees teacher education and certification for Alaska. "Alaska requires Praxis I, which does not meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind."

Though she imagines Alaska will have a much higher percentage of "highly qualified" teachers by 2005, meeting the requirements will be a challenge for all rural states, Curran said.

"In states that have lots or rural areas, where you have three or four teachers in a K-12 school building, they have to teach everything," Curran said. "Yes, they'll be highly qualified in at least one area very soon, but they have to be highly qualified in every subject they teach. You're looking at people having to be highly qualified in three or four areas, maybe more."

Teachers in the Juneau School District are highly competent, even if they don't meet the federal definition of qualified just yet, said Patti Carlson, human resource manager for the district.

"The board policy at high school level requires at least 24 semester credits to teach in a subject area," Carlson said. "That's gone a long way to help us ultimately be in compliance."

Overall, 39 states and the District of Columbia reported data, and most said that at least eight in 10 teachers were highly qualified. The 11 states that did not report information will be required to do so.

The reporting will put a spotlight on the states that need the most improvement, said Celia Sims, who coordinates the federal applications for the Education Department. The department will provide help, Sims said, and the public will get more involved.

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