Toledo Public Schools has more highly qualified teachers under the federal No Child Left Behind Act than any of Ohio's large urban school districts.
With 95.2 percent of its teachers considered "highly qualified," the district is a step ahead of others working to meet the 100 percent standard required by the end of the upcoming school year.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act, which took effect in 2002 and requires that all teachers be "highly qualified" in the core academic content areas they teach, places emphasis on teacher quality as a factor in improving achievement for all students.
In order to be considered highly qualified, a teacher must have a bachelor's degree, full state certification or license, and prove that they know each subject they teach.
Toledo is on par with school districts throughout northwest Ohio, where only six districts have less than 90 percent of their teachers considered highly qualified, and 26 have all teachers meeting that threshold.
In southeast Michigan, all school districts reported 78 percent or more of their teachers rated highly qualified, with five districts reporting 100 percent of their teachers meeting the requirements. Fifteen out of 22 school districts in Monroe and Lenawee counties reported having 90 percent or more of their teachers considered highly qualified.
The information is self reported by teachers and school districts.
Francine Lawrence, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, said the union offers incentives for it members to attain master's degrees and other training that would satisfy the rigorous standard.
"We place a heavy emphasis on teacher quality because it is considered the primary influence for student achievement, equally with the home," Ms. Lawrence said. "We are ahead of the curve for years, and I am delighted to hear [this year's] information."
Kindergarten through sixth grade teachers who acquire a master's degree in education, curriculum and instruction, reading, or teaching, can help themselves meet the requirement for mastery of their subject areas.
Ms. Lawrence criticized the federal requirements for special education teachers, which mandate extra training and education. Unlike regular teachers, special education teachers who provide instruction in core academic subjects must meet the highly qualified teacher requirements for each core academic subject they teach.
"The expectations on special education teachers are unrealistic," she said.
Other district representatives feel the same.
Swanton Local School District reached the 100 percent mark for highly qualified teachers last school year by putting an emphasis on helping special education teachers meet the extra requirements.
"Our special education teachers know it's important they work with the kids for all those areas," said Paulette Raczkowski-Baz, secondary administrative assistant and coordinator of the special education department. "Our teachers just want to make sure they're covering the areas that they're in. It's something that the teacher prides themselves in, too, because who wants a notice shared to a parent that says you're not highly qualified? They want to make sure they're seen as the professionals that they are."
Even though most districts in Ohio have made great strides increasing the percentage of highly qualified teachers - some as much as 62 percent more than reported for the 2003-04 school year - others lack in meeting the federal guidelines.
Arlington Local Schools in Hancock County has 77.8 percent of its approximately 40 teachers meeting the federal guidelines for being highly qualified, the lowest in northwest Ohio. But Superintendent David Rossman says it is no reflection on the quality of teachers in his district.
He said a number of his experienced teachers don't meet the standards because of changes in the regulations from last year, causing a 16 percent drop in the number considered highly qualified.
"We have a teacher with 30 years, two with 29, and one with 20," he said. "It would be a real stretch to say they're a better teacher after they completed (these additional requirements) than they were before."
He said his staff of veteran teachers had training that was different at the time than what is now required. Members of his staff will likely need to take additional courses or log professional development hours to be considered highly qualified on paper, when it's clear they are in the classroom, he said.
"Things like this kind of take the emphasis off of what it means to be a good teacher," he said.
Some charter schools in the area have easily met the 100 percent mark by hiring new teachers who are trained to meet the "highly qualified" requirements.
Summit Toledo Academy requires all teacher applicants to present certifications and then double-checks those with the Ohio Department of Education, Superintendent Vince Buccirosso said.
"When we hire a teacher we make sure they have the HQ status, because we believe it is absolutely vital to our students," he said, adding that a lot of the new teachers have up-to-date training.
Others, like Aurora Academy, have had special education teachers who did not meet the specific standards or others certified in broad academic subjects not specific enough to be considered highly qualified, such as the former social studies certification. The academy had 75 percent of its teachers designated highly qualified in the 2004-05 school year.
Director Cindy Wilson said the numbers might not have been reported accurately for last school year, but there are teachers who needed additional training and are working toward that this school year. She said about half her staff is now working toward master's degrees.
"When that information comes out, some don't know extenuating circumstances or if something wasn't done right," she said. "It's like when you go to McDonald's, you see the price, but you don't understand what goes into it."
Staff writer Ignazio Messina contributed to this report.
Contact Meghan Gilbert at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6050.