Nevada lawmakers were warned Tuesday the federal No Child Left Behind law may cause some veteran teachers to leave the profession rather than face more schooling, tests and perhaps sanctions.
Lynn Warne of the Washoe Teachers' Association told the Legislative Education Committee 83 teachers retired in Washoe County last year - significantly more than in previous years.
She said she fears more longtime, experienced teachers could resign rather than meet the requirements as "highly qualified" under federal law.
"I believe we're going to see more and more leave," she said.
The law is in effect for new hires and will apply to existing teachers by July 2006. About two-thirds of Nevada's teachers now meet the "highly qualified" standard, education officials said.
Warne said later the effect on Clark and Washoe will be significant, but the drain could be worse in Nevada's rural counties.
"We are in some trouble when we start losing some of our very best teachers," she said. The problem is tougher in rural districts, which often have trouble getting teachers, she said.
"For those guys to meet the highly qualified status is very difficult."
She said teachers also object to parts of that law which can sanction teachers who don't meet the standards.
"They can be deemed relevant to the failure of the school to meet standards," she said. "We're negotiating with the district to determine what does that mean."
Ken Lange, director of the Nevada State Education Association, said veteran teachers are critical to the quality of public education because they are not only good teachers but have the skills to help new teachers improve. He said that's especially important because only about 30 percent of new teachers are still in the profession after five years.
Keith Rheault, Nevada superintendent of education, said the law requiring all teachers to meet standards, including proof of training in the core classes they teach, will be difficult on some experienced teachers but the Education Department is trying to make sure good teachers aren't driven out of the classroom.
"Our philosophy is they were qualified the day before the law went into effect," he said. "They should qualify and they are going to qualify."
He said Nevada will count their experience at the maximum level allowed by the federal law - 50 percent - and plans to ensure continuing education classes, including those taken through Nevada's Regional Professional Development Programs, are counted toward qualifications.
Teachers who will have trouble meeting the standard, he said, are those who haven't continued their education through the years since they were first licensed. Professional development courses are widely available - even to rural teachers who can get accredited classes through the Internet, Rheault noted.
He said 64 percent of Nevada's 16,390 teachers meet requirements as "highly qualified."
For elementary teachers in grades K-8, that means passing a state test. For secondary teachers, it means having a degree in their subject area or passing an extensive knowledge exam in that field, such as history, math or science. For all teachers, it means having a state license.
Rheault told the committee chaired by Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, the state has traditionally allowed teachers with an elementary school certificate to teach in middle schools. Federal law will require they meet tougher standards for secondary certification by 2006.
Rheault said only about 30 percent of middle school teachers in Nevada meet the "highly qualified" standard.
University education officials said they are graduating 20 percent more teachers than three years ago to meet the state's growing needs. Those teachers meet the new standards.
Teachers with only a minor in the subjects they currently teach likely will be able to certify by taking the equivalent of 10 credit hours in that field, Rheault said. He said that is typically enough to turn a minor into a major.