WASHINGTON - Nearly half of the nation's middle and high school teachers were not highly qualified to teach their topics in 2000, a report to Congress says.
Federal law defines highly qualified teachers as those who hold a bachelor's degree from a four-year college, have state certification and demonstrate competence in the subject they teach.
The 2002 law requires that by the 2005 school year, highly qualified teachers must be in every class for core subjects, including English, math, science and history.
Meeting that deadline is "going to be challenging," Education Secretary Rod Paige said. "It's going to be tough. But it's necessary, and it's going to be done."
Department officials used the federal definition as a guide in their report to assess teacher qualifications from the 1999-2000 school year.
Fifty-four percent of secondary teachers were highly qualified, the report said. Other figures ranged from 47 percent for math teachers to 55 percent for science and social studies teachers.
Paige said his department will develop a "tool kit" of information to clarify what's required under No Child Left Behind, the reform of elementary and secondary education that President Bush signed in 2002. He said teams of educators and researchers will visit states and provide help as requested by local officials.
The law aims to raise the academic standards of teachers and to make it easier for people with expertise in given fields to become teachers.
Making sure the teacher-quality changes work is the next big push for federal education officials.
The country's largest teachers union, the National Education Association, plans to sue over the law. The union says the federal government broke a promise to states that they won't have to pay for required changes, such as expanded student testing.
Paige said that the law is sufficiently paid for and that the union view does not reflect those of many teachers. He said he believes the union's position will change.