Most isle teachers
The state says 86.7%
have a bachelor's and
show subject mastery
From staff and news reports
Challenged to get top teachers in all core classes, states are reporting widely varying starting points, from a low in Alaska to near perfection in Wisconsin.
Hawaii reported that 86.7 percent of its teachers are "highly qualified," placing it among the bulk of states reporting at least eight in 10 of their teachers meet that criterion.
Under new federal law, states must make public the percentage of classes taught by "highly qualified teachers" -- that is, teachers who have a bachelor's degree, state certification and demonstrated mastery of every subject they teach.
All states must use those measures, and the new figures -- released in response to a Freedom of Information request from the Associated Press -- present the first benchmark of the country's teaching corps. Still, national comparisons are far from perfect because states set their own licensing standards and standards of subject mastery for veteran teachers.
On the low end in the new figures: Alaska, which reported that 16 percent of its public school classes were taught by highly qualified teachers. Two other states reported that less than half of their classes made the mark: Alabama, at 35 percent, and California, at 48 percent.
Wisconsin reported that almost 99 percent of classes had top teachers, one of 12 states reporting totals of at least 95 percent. Overall, 39 states and the District of Columbia reported data; the 11 states that did not report information will be required to do so.
By the end of the 2005-06 school year, according to the federal No Child Left Behind law, all teachers of core subjects must be highly qualified.
"I think 87 percent is outstanding," said Danielle Lum, spokeswoman for the Hawaii State Teachers Association. "Would we like it to be higher? Sure. But 87 percent shows that the vast majority of our teachers are highly qualified for the job that we do."
Lum said Hawaii leads the nation in the percentage of teachers with degrees beyond a bachelor's, but some of them are teaching outside of their specialty.
"This happens because of the teacher shortage," she said. "It comes down to recruitment and retention."
Department of Education spokesman Greg Knudsen said that ensuring 100 percent of teachers are "highly qualified" will be a challenge across the country, but "it appears that we're in relatively good condition considering that there's still time to comply."
The reporting requirement will put a spotlight on the states and the areas within states that need the most improvement, said Celia Sims, who coordinates the federal applications for the Education Department. The department will provide help, Sims said, and the public will get more involved.
"In the past, parents have never had this type of information," Sims said. "It's kind of been that dirty little secret over the years, and what we're beginning to do is uncover that."
But the reporting also highlights some problems states face in meeting the law.
In Alaska, for example, many schools have a few teachers who handle many subjects. And in many cases, those teachers would have to get college degrees in each subject within the next three years, or pass rigorous tests in those subjects, to remain in the classroom.
The Associated Press and Star-Bulletin reporter Susan Essoyan contributed to this report.