EDUCATION State says teachers are top-notch, but they fail to meet federal goals

The state's teachers fall short of the federal teacher-quality standards.
HARRISBURG (AP) -- Nearly 97 percent of Pennsylvania's more than 120,000 public-school teachers are considered "highly qualified" for their jobs, says a report card released Tuesday by the state education department.
But when it comes to meeting new federal teacher-quality standards that establish a target of 100 percent, roughly two-thirds of the state's 501 school districts fall short of the mark.
The report card, which is based on data from the 2002-03 school year, encompasses a variety of statistics that show how well Pennsylvania is complying with the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, which imposes new mandates to improve students' standardized test scores.
Core-subject qualifications
One provision of the law requires all teachers in core academic subjects to be highly qualified by the end of the 2005-06 school year.
The law also requires schools that receive federal funding through the Title I program for needy students to notify parents of children who have been taught for at least one month by a teacher who is not highly qualified.
Under a policy adopted by the Pennsylvania Board of Education more than a year ago, Pennsylvania considers teachers to be highly qualified if they have a bachelor's degree, are certified in the subjects they teach and have demonstrated that they know their subject matter.
The York City School District had the lowest proportion of qualified teachers, at 83 percent. District officials did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
The primary reason that districts fail to meet the teacher-quality standard is because they have been unable to attract fully certified permanent teachers and have had to rely instead on teachers who have been granted emergency permits on a provisional basis, said Susan Stewart, chief of the education department's division of candidate evaluation services.
"It's been one of our major issues," Stewart said.
Big cities
Of the 2,230 emergency permits that were in use statewide during the 2002-03 school year, about 47 percent, or 1,057, were issued to teachers in the Philadelphia School District, the report card statistics show. The Harrisburg School District ranked a distant second, with 44 emergency permits.
About 90 percent of Philadelphia's teachers are considered highly qualified, a gain of three percentage points over the 2001-02 school year, schools chief Paul Vallas said.
"Let's face it, the competition for highly qualified teachers is increasing, and it's extreme," Vallas said. "Having said that, what we are doing now are things that the district failed to do in the past -- we're recruiting nationally, participating in alternative certification programs, and we're providing incentives to improve retention."
The number of highly qualified teachers in Harrisburg -- about 85 percent -- also represents an improvement in recent years under Mayor Stephen Reed's takeover of the district, Superintendent Gerald Kohn said.
By the end of the 2005-06 school year, "I anticipate we will be at 100 percent, because that's where we have to be," Kohn said.