Many teachers aren't certified

About two-thirds of new Baltimore hires lack credentials

`Our goal is to get 100%'

Recruits can teach while working to complete requirements

September 17, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Roughly two-thirds of the 1,000 new teachers hired by the city school system have not fulfilled the requirements to be certified by the state, muting the good news officials announced last week that they had opened school with only a few dozen vacancies.

An estimated 60 percent to 70 percent of the new hires are not professionally certified, said Theodore E. Thornton Sr., human resources director for city schools.

Patricia Morris Welch, a school board member and dean of the education school at Morgan State University, called the number of uncertified teachers "unsettling."

"It makes me feel very uncomfortable because it says that, despite all our efforts we put in place to increase the number of persons we believe have the required skills to be effective, we have been unable to show a major difference," Welch said. "It makes me very nervous."

In hopes that it would lead to higher student achievement, the school system has made a push in recent years to put more certified teachers in classrooms. Last year, 40 percent of the new hires were not certified, down from 60 percent the year before.

The system had hoped to improve further this year.

"Our goal is to get 100 percent of our new teachers certified," Thornton said in July.

Of Maryland's 24 jurisdictions, Baltimore has the highest percentage of provisional teachers, those who are allowed to teach while pursuing certification. As of last month, nearly 23 percent of its 7,000 teachers had provisional certificates, said Ronald A. Peiffer, assistant state superintendent of schools. The state average is about 7 percent.

In its contract with the state, Edison Schools Inc., the for-profit company that is running three of the city's failing elementaries this year, is required to have 80 percent of its teachers certified.

Chief Academic Officer Betty Morgan told the school board last month that certification is a "good indicator" of "who is worthy of going into the classroom."

City officials don't know how close this year's provisional hires - who receive one-year certificates that are renewable - are to being fully certified. They have four years to meet the requirements, though the city school system prefers that they do it in two.

Some may lack a few education credits or may not have passed the national teacher exam. Others may have degrees in a content area such as history or biology but might not have taken education courses.

That doesn't mean they can't be good teachers, Thornton said.

"It doesn't mean that these people, because we call them provisional, are less competent teachers," he said. "We know the competitive market for teachers. We know the range of options. We know the national shortage. We know the local shortage. We know we're not the most attractive employer in the community. I think we did exceptionally well to do as well as we did."

After hiring 1,018 teachers, the city opened its 182 schools last week with about 30 vacancies, down from nearly 120 last year.

"We did make major strides," said Carmen V. Russo, chief executive officer of the city schools. "Given the increased numbers of vacancies that were experienced throughout the state of Maryland, [the number of uncertified hires] would not come as a surprise to me," she said. "The job market's just shifted dramatically from last year."

As a way to attract and retain good teachers, the school system has begun a monthlong training program to help recruits with such things as classroom management and understanding state and local curriculum standards.

Other incentives include tuition reimbursement, a mentor program and higher salaries, which went into effect July 1.

Welch said Maryland produces about 2,500 certified teachers each year. Not all of them stay in the state.

The school system gets hundreds of its new teachers through alternative programs such as Teach For America, which is part of AmeriCorps, or as resident teachers.

"Buried in that `not certified now' statistic are situations like that where people really have gone through well-thought-out programs to put them in the classrooms ... even though that may not [mean] full certification now," said Kenneth A. Jones, a school board member.

Jones said he thinks the school system should be more diligent in tracking the progress of uncertified teachers as they move toward certification.

Thornton said he plans to review the status of the provisional teachers and take "action steps" to get those teachers certified.

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