Poorer schools get uncertified teachers

Key to imbalance is uneven turnover, area educators say

December 07, 2003|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

Hundreds of teachers in the Baltimore metropolitan area lack basic state certification, and they're employed disproportionately in the worst-performing schools.

An analysis by The Sun found 239 teachers the state terms "conditional" in the 25 elementary schools with the area's lowest test scores. That's 35 percent of the 684 instructors in those schools, all of them in Baltimore.

By contrast, 10 conditional teachers were scattered among the area's 25 top-performing schools. That is less than 2 percent of the teachers in those schools, which are in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties.

FOR THE RECORD - Because of an editing error, an article in Sunday's editions incorrectly reported the number of elementary school teachers in Maryland. There were more than 42,000 teachers when the state collected data in March, of whom about 5,000 were conditionally certified. The Sun regrets the error.

The analysis also found veteran teachers with advanced certificates - those with master's degrees and at least three years' experience - clustered in many of the area's top schools and in all of the suburban districts.

A little more than 36 percent of the city's elementary teachers held advanced certificates, compared with nearly 55 percent of Anne Arundel's teachers.

There is some disagreement about the value of certification, or licensing, as a measure of teacher quality. Even supporters would not suggest that the presence or absence of a certified teacher is the chief reason a child does well or poorly in school.

But the concentration in under-performing schools of teachers who have not met state requirements - often because they have failed national teaching tests - disturbs many.

"You wouldn't want to hire a lawyer who hasn't passed the bar," says state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, arguing that a teacher's background and credentials are important.

Maryland has three main categories of certification for teachers. To get a standard teaching certificate, one must have a college degree, have taken required education courses and passed two national tests.

Conditionally certified teachers - often referred to as uncertified - have college degrees but are missing the education courses, the national tests or both.

Teachers with advanced certification have master's degrees, usually in education, and three or more years of experience.

More than 11 percent of the 5,000 elementary teachers in Maryland's classrooms in March, when the state collected data, were conditionally certified. The state average is influenced by the large numbers of conditional teachers in Baltimore and in Prince George's County.

In the Baltimore area, conditional teachers were most heavily concentrated in the city. Although some have been laid off in the budget crisis, almost a third of Baltimore's teachers were conditionally certified.

More than 400 Baltimore County elementary teachers, 7.8 percent of the total of 5,400, held conditional licenses. Carroll County employed the lowest proportion, 3.3 percent.

The figure was 5 percent in Anne Arundel County, 4.1 percent in Howard and 3.9 percent in Harford.

Measuring quality

Educators disagree about the importance of such figures. An Abell Foundation study concluded last year that uncertified teachers are as effective in the classroom as those who are fully licensed. Others dispute that.

"We have yet to find ways to measure teacher quality in terms of what actually happens in the classroom," says Daniel Fallon, education chairman of the Carnegie Corp. of New York, a foundation.

But certification is crucial because the federal No Child Left Behind Act requires "highly qualified" teachers in all schools by 2005-2006. The definition is left to the states, and Maryland is using certification as the chief factor in determining that a teacher is qualified.

In its analysis, The Sun looked at teacher certification and student test scores in the Baltimore area's 395 elementary schools. The scores were the results of the 2003 Maryland School Assessment, state tests in reading and math that were given in March to all students in the third and fifth grades.

To compile a list of the best- and worst-performing schools, the newspaper developed a "pass rate," the average percentage of students who passed the tests - that is, who scored at the "proficient" or "advanced" levels, the definition of passing under the federal act.

Teacher certification information was provided by the schools to the state at the time of the MSA testing, and the information was updated in August.

In addition to the disparity in the location of conditional teachers, The Sun's analysis found experienced teachers concentrated in high-performing schools. Of the 71 area schools with passing rates of 80 percent or more, 52 had a majority of teachers with advanced certification. Of the 74 schools with passing rates of 40 percent or less, seven had a majority of teachers holding the advanced credential.

Officials say turnover is the key to the imbalance. Veteran teachers don't want to leave their posts in high-performing schools, and turnover is high at the city's academically challenged schools.

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