One-third of the teachers in Baltimore's worst schools do not have the basic teaching credentials required to be certified by the state - 50 percent more than in other city schools, according to a report presented yesterday to the state education board.
Baltimore has a far higher percentage of uncertified teachers than the state average, the report found, and the largest percentage of them work in underachieving schools that consistently rank near the bottom of the state, judging by standardized tests and other performance measures.
While less than 8 percent of the state's teaching force is uncertified - typically recent college graduates without education degrees and middle-aged career changers - nearly 23 percent of Baltimore's teachers lack the necessary credentials.
The highest concentration of inexperienced teachers - 35 percent - can be found in 85 city schools beset by such low test scores that the sites have been put on the state's failing list.
The State Department of Education's report confirms what Baltimore civic leaders and education advocates have long believed to be a key obstacle in trying to revive the city's lowest-performing schools after decades of decline.
"If schools can't retain a stable cadre of teachers, they won't improve," said Cathy Brennan, education director at the Baltimore-based Advocates for Children and Youth that lobbies for education reforms. "The issue isn't so much whether teachers are certified but whether they are qualified. Schools have to recruit qualified teachers ... and they have to keep the teachers."
Maryland offers provisional certification for new teachers who lack the 30 hours of education courses and have not passed the National Teacher Examination, which the state requires for full certification.
A number of city teachers with such provisional certificates are only a few credits short of meeting the state standard, said Baltimore education chief Carmen V. Russo, who added that she is working with local colleges to provide summer and evening classes to allow them to finish their coursework.
"All I can say is we are aware of this, and we're working on it," Russo said. "How we place teachers in schools is another issue. Historically, not just here but in other big cities, the newest, greenest teachers have gone to the poorest schools. As we do more reforms, we can take care of some of this issue."
One of her first moves, she said, will be to recruit experienced teachers for a district of underachieving schools that will report directly to her.
The district will be made up of seven schools that were recently added to the state's failing list - and three that have been substandard for several years.
Russo also wants to assume responsibility for the necessary reforms at Westport Elementary and Middle School, which the state is taking over and splitting off from the rest of the city school system. The state school board had planned to hire an outside manager to run Westport, as it did last year with three other city elementary schools.
But last month, Russo persuaded the board to let her guide Westport's privatization instead.
Yesterday, Russo sought the state board's approval to enter into a contract with Victory Schools, a small New York City company, which she had chosen to run the school.
The state board, however, did not immediately give its blessing - and the city school board delayed action on the agreement last night.
Sun staff writer Erika Niedowski contributed to this article.