School hiring yields novices

60% of new teachers in Baltimore lack full Md. certification

`In a fierce competition'

City schools consider incentives to lure, retain best-qualified

February 04, 1999|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

More than half of the 2,100 teachers hired in Baltimore's public schools since school reform began in 1997 do not have the basic teaching credentials needed to be certified by the state.

The surge in the number of uncertified city teachers -- recent college graduates without education degrees and middle-aged career-changers -- is the first evidence that Baltimore might face a desperate search for qualified teachers in the coming years, school officials say.

About one-quarter of the city's 6,800 teachers, many of whom were hired to teach baby boomers in the 1960s, could retire in the next five years, said O. Albrie Love Jr., the school district's director of personnel. "And that is a conservative estimate."

The only answer, school officials said, is to do a better job of keeping certified teachers from fleeing to suburban classrooms and using creative means of attracting certified teachers from outside the state.

Maryland accepts teacher certifications from most other states.

Attracting teachers has become the No. 1 priority for Baltimore schools, said Betty Morgan, the district's chief academic officer. "If we can recruit outstanding teachers and staff, then the rest will follow."

School officials met this week to begin planning a strategy to lure certified job applicants this spring and summer with promises ranging from plenty of classroom supplies and experienced teachers as mentors to signing bonuses and health club memberships. In effect, school officials say they will begin acting like a business trying to attract the best candidates.

"We are in a fierce competition," Morgan said. "Unless we become creative, we are going to be out of the running."

Nationwide, teacher quality has become the latest education issue. Recent studies in Tennessee, Dallas and El Paso, Texas, have shown that the quality of the teacher in a classrooms is the most important factor in how a student will do in school -- more than class size or curriculum.

But in Baltimore's lowest-performing schools, 28 percent of the teachers are not certified, compared with 17 percent citywide.

"We have the least experienced, least qualified teachers going into the least performing schools. That paradigm should be flipped," said Laura Weeldrier, education director of Advocates for Children and Youth, a Baltimore-based nonprofit group that lobbies for education reforms.

At 17 percent, Baltimore's ratio of uncertified teachers is higher than any Maryland county. In Baltimore County, for instance, 3 percent of the teachers lack certification; statewide, the figure is 6 percent.

Of the 992 teachers hired in Baltimore during the past six months, 594, or 59.9 percent, were not certified.

The school system said 150 of the uncertified teachers (25 percent) have taken the required 30 credit hours of education courses but not passed the National Teacher Examination, which the state requires for full professional certification.

Sixty people hired through a Johns Hopkins University program that trains people who are switching careers have provisional certification. The program is well-respected and has produced some of the system's best teachers, officials say.

Maryland offers two types of provisional certification, one for participants in the Hopkins program and the other for all other new teachers who lack the 30 hours of education courses and have not passed the national exam.

School board members and top school officials believe that they must use creative marketing techniques to entice candidates to come to Baltimore, a school system with low test scores and a large number of less-affluent students.

Administrators hope to have incentives in place this spring, but no formal proposals have been made to the school board and no estimate exists of costs.

Administrator Gary Thrift said beginning teachers often receive little support. They might not know what school they will teach in until after they are hired. They may have only a few days of training in the curriculum and a few days to prepare their classroom.

Because many are coming straight from college, they often have to cope with trying to find a safe place to live with relatively little money, he said. Starting pay is $27,000 a year.

Once they get into their school, said Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, teachers often tell her they are frustrated by the lack of school supplies and support from their principals.

"I hear it all the time," English said. "Support is the biggest problem. Salary is not always the issue. If I come into a building that is dirty or dingy or I come to a school with no heat, I may decide to go to Howard County."

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