The U.S. Department of Education has put down a marker: First-year elementary school teachers in Texas must pass a broad exam to be considered "highly qualified." Being tested in a single subject will not cut it.

This recent move by Washington is a good one because elementary children deserve teachers who are equipped to teach effectively in all the core subjects they are responsible for including math, science, reading and social studies. Not getting those building blocks right sets students up for failure somewhere along their public school path.

A test alone won't guarantee great teachers, but it can stop unqualified ones from getting jobs in elementary schools, where instructors most often teach multiple subjects.

The No Child Left Behind law requires teachers to be certified as "highly qualified." Hallelujah for that. And we commend Education Secretary Arne Duncanfor continuing to make a huge deal of improving the quality of teachers. In a recent speech at Columbia University, he challenged schools of education to turn out better teachers.

That takes guts, given the power of teachers unions in some parts of the country. So, too, did his ruling regarding first-year elementary teachers in Texas.

Texas Education Agency Commissioner Robert Scott responded with a letter largely challenging the ruling. But he also offered a compromise: Let new Texas teachers off the hook this year for passing the exam, and in return, the agency will require future first-year teachers to pass it.

Scott's offer is reasonable. The suggested compromise does not let the state off the hook for improving its teacher corps, but it would also avoid potential upheaval one-third of the way through the current school year.

We're now in late October. It could take Washington awhile to respond to Scott's letter, and, the next thing you know, it could easily be December. We don't see the effectiveness of testing teachers that far into the school year. (Dallas Independent School District spokesman Jon Dahlander says about 75 DISD teachers would be eligible for this test.)

We hope Washington accepts the TEA compromise, while keeping the pressure on to make sure this teacher-quality message remains highly visible.

As much as we all appreciate teachers, the most important people in this equation are students. If they are sitting in classrooms where teachers aren't qualified in critical subjects, they deserve better.

That's the bottom line.

URL: http://www.dallasnews.com

The Dallas Morning News