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U.S. Department of Education signs off on Missouri Teachers

By Adam Allington, KWMU

Jefferson City, MO – The U.S. Department of Education has approved Missouri's plan for increasing the percentage of public schoolteachers who are "highly qualified" under federal law.

The decision resolves a disagreement which began last summer when the Department of Education criticized Missouri, and three other states for failing to submit adequate information about teachers working in public schools.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act required all teachers in core academic areas to be "highly qualified" by the end of the last school year (2005-06).

No state met that standard, and all states have been required to take additional steps to address issues related to teacher quality.

Jim Morris is a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

"We were getting bashed because the stories were that Missouri had all of these 'unqualified teachers'." says Morris.

To be deemed "highly qualified," a teacher must have a bachelor's degree, full state certification for each assignment, and "demonstrated competency" in each subject that he or she teaches.

"Missouri has a required test for issuing a certificate since 1988," says Morris, "and so anyone who meets the 1988 standard meets the definition in federal law--anyone who got certificates before that time didn't."

There were 16,500 long-time teachers who received their certificates before 1988, when the state began requiring new teachers to pass a test in order to qualify for a license.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education resisted federal pressure to collect more information about those veteran teachers to determine if they would meet the "highly qualified" criteria.

When federal officials threatened to withhold funding, DESE agreed to collect more data.

Nearly all teachers (96 percent) met the standards under alternative criteria that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.