Group issues school report

Study finds poor sites have high number of novice teachers

`Most important resource'

ACORN notes relationship with low pupil test scores

May 03, 2001|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Children who live in the city's poor neighborhoods are taught by a disproportionately high number of novice teachers and fewer experienced pros than their wealthier peers, according to a study released yesterday by a community group.

Nearly 10,000 children, the study says, attend elementary or middle schools where more than half the teachers are not certified.

And those students in schools with large numbers of uncertified teachers are more likely to have low test scores. For instance, 52 percent of the teaching staff at William Paca Elementary School are not certified and 94 percent of its fifth-graders failed the statewide reading test.

Across town at Mount Washington Elementary School, where 60 percent of fifth-graders passed the reading test, 13 percent of the teaching staff is uncertified.

The Baltimore Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now said it hopes to organize parents to pressure city and state officials to achieve more equity in teaching staff in city public schools.

"Just because you grow up in a low-income, African-American neighborhood doesn't mean that you should have to go to a school where the teachers aren't prepared to teach," said Mitchell Klein, head organizer for ACORN.

The study's conclusions are supported by national and state data showing that poor and minority children attend schools with more inexperienced teachers, and that often results in lower achievement. Educators generally agree that first- and second-year teachers are not as effective as teachers with more experience.

One national study showed that students who were assigned to ineffective teachers several years in a row scored significantly lower in reading and math tests - up to 50 percentile points over three years - than those assigned to effective teachers.

Two months ago, state education officials released data showing that the city's lowest-performing schools also had the highest concentration of uncertified teachers. Across the city, state officials say 24 percent of teachers are uncertified; ACORN says its data show it is 31 percent.

The lack of certification generally means that teachers have fewer than three years of experience and haven't taken courses to prepare them for the profession. Because of a national teacher shortage, the school system has been forced to hire college graduates who may never have taken a teaching course or have taught before.

Generally, the state gives those teachers up to four years to become certified.

"The most important resource in our schools are our teachers," said Norma Washington, the Maryland chairwoman of ACORN and the parent of a city middle school pupil. "We want to find out how come the resources can't be allocated the way they should be."

Washington was one of a dozen ACORN members who held a news conference on North Avenue and delivered the report to city schools chief Carmen V. Russo yesterday.

To do the report, ACORN gathered data from the city schools, 1990 census and statewide test results. The group had it analyzed by John M. Beam, executive director of the National Center for Schools and Communities at Fordham University, who is doing a similar analysis of data from Denver and Philadelphia.

"The schools that are poor and the schools that are [African-American] tend to have fewer resources," Beam said.

The ACORN report draws a correlation between race and teacher experience, saying that schools in white neighborhoods have a lower percentage of uncertified teachers. Beam acknowledged, however, that the conclusion does not take into account that some predominantly white neighborhoods such as Roland Park have a significant number of African-American children from outside that neighborhood.

Roland Park Elementary/ Middle School has the highest number of teachers with master's degrees - 48 percent.

ACORN does not claim that the school system has been intentionally racist in its assignment of teachers. High-performing schools tend to attract the most experienced teachers while failing schools in poor neighborhoods tend to be harder to teach in and thus have a higher turnover of teachers.

ACORN says the system should intervene to make sure that teacher talent is more equally distributed through the system.

Russo issued a statement yesterday saying that improving the quality of teaching is an important element of the city's school reform effort. She noted that the school board has recently increased teacher pay significantly and is trying to improve working conditions.

"ACORN's report reiterates what the school system fully understands: We need a solid, well-prepared teaching force that can help all our children achieve their potential," she said.

The state has also taken some initial steps to ease the distribution problems, including giving $2,000 annual bonuses to highly qualified teachers - with a master's degree and about 10 years' experience - who teach in the state's failing schools.

But Ronald A. Peiffer, an assistant state superintendent of education, said the program is new and may not have had an effect yet.

Educators agree that assigning good principals who can attract and keep good teachers may be critical. Often, they say, teachers will stay in a failing school if they have good support and experienced mentors who can help them in their classrooms.

City school officials have not intervened directly in some schools such as Calverton Middle School, one of the first to be designated by the state as a failing school in the mid-1990s. Today, it has the highest number of uncertified teachers and is one of the worst performing city schools.

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