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Officials defend number of 'highly qualified teachers

School district scores the lowest by 5 percent
The Oregon Department of Education has recently released figures declaring the percentage of "highly qualified" teachers in each school district throughout the state.
   Compared to other school districts in the tri-county area, Crook County School District scored the lowest by about 5 percent.
   According to the data, which was collected by the ODE last spring, out of 269 teachers within the district, 202 teachers met the No Child Left Behind definition of "highly qualified teacher." The numbers yield a percentage of 75.09.
   In the tri-county area, 96.3 percent of Sisters School District teachers meet the highly qualified teacher definition, while Redmond School District is at 88.91, Jefferson County School District is at 80.8, and the Bend-LaPine School District is at 80.5.
   "We do not have 67 teachers who are not highly qualified," defended Rich Shultz, personnel director for the CCSD.
   The ODE computes the total number of teachers by the amount of classes each teacher instructs.
   For example, at the middle school and high school level where students change rooms almost every class period, a single teacher may be considered five teachers because they teach five different classes.
   "In a high school that has 2,000 kids they may have a math teacher teach math all day. In smaller schools that teacher may have three periods of math and one of science and may not be considered highly qualified for that one period," explained Steve Swisher, CCSD superintendent.
   At the elementary level, most teachers instruct one class the whole day, therefore they are considered one teacher.
   From last year's data, Shultz calculated 13 teachers in the district who did not meet NCLB's highly qualified definition.
   "The parent on the street sees these statistics and may think the schools aren't good, but that's simply not the case," Shultz said.
   The ODE and NCLB have defined a "highly qualified" teacher as one who is fully licensed by the state, holds at least a bachelor's degree, and demonstrates mastery in their core subject area.
   Core subject areas include language arts, math, science, foreign languages, social studies, art, music, and drama.
   The missing pieces of the "highly qualified teacher" definition are those who hold restricted or transitional licenses. Teachers with these licenses are not included in the ODE and NCLB definition of "highly qualified."
   A restricted teaching license is for teachers who have yet to earn their bachelor's degree and are teaching classes on a provisional basis.
   According to Shultz, teachers with transitional teaching licenses are generally fully-certified and licensed teachers who have moved to Oregon from another state.
   Although they have been fully certified and licensed in their home state, these newcomers must apply for a transitional license which is not considered "full state certification."
   Shultz explained the school district has a number of teachers who have provisional and transitional teaching licenses.
   "The teacher might have a master's in math and could have taught 10 years in their home state and still not be highly qualified by the state's definition, until they jump through those hoops," explained Shultz.
   The "hoops," which entail various classes on ethical issues and refresher courses, cost teachers time and money.
   The transitional license allows teachers three years to meet various requirements and become fully certified and licensed before their nonrenewable transitional license expires.
   "Most teachers jump through those hoops in their first year," Shultz said.
   The NCLB asserts teachers at schools receiving Title IA funds must be "highly qualified." If a teacher at a Title IA school is not, the school district must write a letter to the parent of every child being taught by the not highly qualified teacher, informing them that their child)s teacher does not meet NCLB standards.
   "No Child Left Behind specifically impacts teachers in schools who receive Title IA funds," Shultz said.
   Paulina, Crooked River, Ochoco, and Cecil Sly Elementary schools all receive Title IA funds.
   Because Crook County Middle School and Crook County High School do not receive those funds, the district does not have to notify parents.
   "Most of the teachers who are not deemed highly qualified come from the middle school and high school, but those schools are not receiving Title IA funds," Shultz explained.
   Swisher pointed out that there are problems in the legislation for elementary school certified teachers who are recruited to teach at the middle school level.
   Middle and high school teachers are certified for their subject area, unlike teachers at elementary schools. When an elementary school teacher teaches at the middle school level he or she need different licenses and must meet different requirements. In 2006, all schools will be required to meet the "highly qualified" teacher standards, as well as many other NCLB standards.
   "In 2006, we probably won't be hiring people from Texas because to come here they will have their transitional license and won't be highly qualified," said Shultz.
   Swisher believes by the 2006-07 school year deadline, the rules will change to allow more flexibility for middle school instructors.
   "On the surface the (NCLB) legislation implies there is a simple solution, but in truth there is not," he said.
   "It's unfortunate that those terms are used," Shultz said referring to the highly qualified label.
   "It's a politically loaded term. It's not the fault of President Bush or the people who put together No Child Left Behind... The intent of the bill is for the kids best. There's no question about that," said Shultz.
   At the state level, improvements were made in the number of highly qualified teachers. The department's data concludes that during the 2003-04 school year, 88 percent of public school classes are taught by a highly qualified teacher.
   This number is up from 82 percent from the 2002-03 school year.