Education rule change will mean little for local district educa

Posted: Friday, March 19, 2004

The Department of Education announced earlier this week it will give rural schools some additional leeway in meeting the federal No Child Left Behind Act's requirements for "highly qualified teachers."

While that may cut the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District some slack, at least one administrator in the district said he was unimpressed by the change.

"It's a minor concession," said assistant superintendent Gary Whiteley, who was in St. Louis, Mo., last week meeting with educators and Department of Education leaders.

Among the changes announced by Education Secretary Rod Paige on Monday were a provision to give rural schools an extra year to show they are highly qualified in all their classes.

The law originally said all teachers must be "highly qualified" -- a term left up to states for definition -- in all class subjects they teach by 2006.

The change would give rural teachers until 2007 to meet the requirements and would give new rural teachers three years from their hire date to prove their qualifications.

In Alaska, that means taking additional tests, receiving degrees in subjects taught or -- possibly -- meeting requirements in a portfolio system.

"We listened to educators from across the country, and we learned," Paige told The Associated Press.

But Whiteley said the change will not fix some of the underlying problems rural schools face in meeting the law.

He said that in small schools, where one or two teachers may serve students in all subjects across a wide range of grades, it's almost impossible for teachers to meet the requirements.

Even if some teachers can meet the standard, small rural schools are at a disadvantage in recruiting those teachers, he said.

"Sometimes it's impossible to find someone with a degree in biology, chemistry and physics who wants to be in a small, rural place," Whiteley said.

Whiteley added that he's not even sure the changes announced on Monday will be implemented.

"They've been really reluctant to put anything in writing," he said of Education Department leaders.

"Every time they do something small, they've made a big splash about it," he said.

He believes the Bush administration is dragging its feet making any changes to the law.

"It's the cornerstone of his campaign," Whiteley said. "They see it as a defeat if it's changed."

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