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As standards rise, too few teachers

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The new federal law goes further, requiring that even veteran teachers demonstrate "solid content knowledge of the subjects they teach," either by passing a proficiency test or by having an undergraduate major in the subject they teach.

This year, new hires in schools accepting federal money for low-income students must meet this standard. It's a sharp departure from a tradition that the question of who teaches in a classroom is a local matter.

Federal dollars at stake

While federal dollars cover less than 8 percent of the cost of educating a child in a public school, the No Child Left Behind Act gives the Department of Education the right to leverage those billions to force states to get serious about teacher quality.

"The potential big losers are the ed schools, because they have had a monopoly on certification," says education historian Diane Ravitch, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

In June, a report by the Department of Education blasting the quality of teacher education riled many teacher educators. "This department is, in the face of all the evidence, turning its back on colleges of education and basically espousing almost any other approach to bringing people into teaching," says Arthur Wise, president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

But a clash last week over California's new draft standards shows how difficult the use of federal leverage can be. To meet the federal requirements, California proposed defining "highly qualified" teachers as including interns with emergency permits. When asked to evaluate this plan, the US Department of Education said it wouldn't meet the terms of the law. That could cost the state $5.4 billion in federal dollars.

"California was trying to define as 'highly qualified' anybody who can breathe," says Kati Haycock, executive director of the Education Trust.

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