Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

As Standards Rise, Too Few Teachers ; Federal Law Now Requires 'Highly Qualified' Teachers as Shortages in the Profession Mount*

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

As Standards Rise, Too Few Teachers ; Federal Law Now Requires 'Highly Qualified' Teachers as Shortages in the Profession Mount*

Article excerpt

As American schools reopen, a 15-year effort to "professionalize" the job of teacher is running up against a strong counterforce - the urgent need to fill classroom vacancies.

Students and their parents have long understood that the big question of a new school year is: Who is your teacher? A good teacher can help a struggling student get back on track. A few bad ones can set kids so far back that they never catch up.

Yet, despite the acknowledged importance of their role, America's teachers have not found it easy win salary upgrades or to earn professional respect akin to doctors or lawyers.

They have made gains. Salaries have been rising and many states have raised standards for being considered "qualified" to stand at the blackboard. Now, in what could be a further step toward professional standing, a new federal law requires a well-qualified teacher in every classroom by the fall of 2005.

The catch: These moves to bolster teaching come against the backdrop of tight budgets and high teacher turnover in many places. Pressures to get any adult at the front of an empty classroom could undermine the attractiveness of the profession to newcomers and veterans alike.

Since the mid-1980s, reformers within the profession have sought to set higher standards for entry and advancement, much as was done for medicine in the last century. Respect and rewards for the profession would follow, they said.

At same time, state officials began pursuing alternative routes to teaching, both to meet shortages and to provide easier access into the profession for top college graduates or career switchers. What counted in a classroom was not credentials, but knowing subject matter and being able to interest children in learning it, supporters said. Their programs often included extensive mentoring and on-the-job supervision.

The new federal law goes further, requiring that even veteran teachers demonstrate "solid content knowledge of the subjects they teach," either by passing a proficiency test or by having an undergraduate major in the subject they teach.

This year, new hires in schools accepting federal money for low- income students must meet this standard. It's a sharp departure from a tradition that the question of who teaches in a classroom is a local matter.

Federal dollars at stake

While federal dollars cover less than 8 percent of the cost of educating a child in a public school, the No Child Left Behind Act gives the Department of Education the right to leverage those billions to force states to get serious about teacher quality.

"The potential big losers are the ed schools, because they have had a monopoly on certification," says education historian Diane Ravitch, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

In June, a report by the Department of Education blasting the quality of teacher education riled many teacher educators. …

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