PORTLAND (AP) – Maine educators say they hope a new panel organized by U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins will help them answer questions raised by a sweeping new federal education law.

The No Child Left Behind Act requires that within the next two to three years, teachers in core subject areas must be “highly qualified” in each subject they teach.

In Maine, teachers are considered qualified if they have majors or degrees in the core subjects or pass exams in them.

Experience, professional development and awards also are taken into account.

Gert Nesin has a doctoral degree in middle school education and was an award-winning teacher at Shapleigh Middle School in Kittery. But she says that under the No Child Left Behind Act she might not have the qualifications to teach middle school.

“It certainly does not support middle school education,” said Nesin, who taught before becoming an instructor at the University of Maine’s College of Education and Human Development.

She said middle school teachers will have a particularly hard time meeting requirements because they often teach several subjects.

It’s an approach that research indicates is the best way for middle schoolers to learn, but one that Nesin believes the law’s requirements work against.

The panel’s 22 members will meet Tuesday to examine how teachers who teach multiple subjects will be affected by the act’s “highly-qualified” provisions.

Kate Sheldon is one of those teachers. A sixth-grade teacher at Shapleigh Middle School in Kittery, she has an undergraduate degree in history and literature and earned her master’s degree in education just two years ago.

Along with social studies, she integrates subjects like science when teaching. Sheldon says she is concerned that the new law could deem her not “highly-qualified” enough to do that.

“When you’re talking about middle school,” she said, “I think it’s better to have a wide breadth of knowledge.”

Rob Walker, who heads the state teachers’ union, said he believes most experienced Maine teachers will be able to meet the federal standard by earning points based on years of teaching, professional development and awards. But he is concerned that newer teachers won’t have spent enough time on the job to accrue those points.

Ron Tomalis, an adviser to the U.S. Secretary of Education, said new flexibility in the law is designed to give teachers of multiple subjects and rural teachers more leeway in meeting the standard. For example, rural teachers will have until 2007 instead of the end of the 2005-2006 school year to show they are highly qualified.

Maine Deputy Commissioner of Education Patrick Phillips, a member of the panel, said more flexibility is helpful but the changes “are less flexible…than our initial understanding.” He said Maine is “going to have to do a thorough examination of the flexibility to make sure it’s going to meet our needs.”

Tomalis said the issue is simple: “If you’re going to teach children (subjects such as) math or science, it’s important that you know math or science and can demonstrate the knowledge of math or science.”

AP-ES-03-29-04 0216EST

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