Arecent report by Maryland's Department of Education shows that less than half of Baltimore city school teachers are considered highly qualified, the lowest proportion in the state. That probably helps account for the fact that Baltimore schools are among the lowest performers on annual state assessments. The shortage of highly qualified teachers is hardly unique to Baltimore, but the city and state will have to work doubly hard to bring the numbers up.
The push for better teaching comes from the federal No Child Left Behind law, which mandates a highly qualified teacher for every class in a core academic subject by the end of the current school year. It's an important requirement since improving student performance is linked to teaching experience and competence. Two of NCLB's principal goals are to increase student proficiency and to narrow the achievement gap between minority and white students. Narrowing the gap is difficult when many schools with a substantial proportion of minority students also have a high proportion of inexperienced and under-credentialed teachers.
Baltimore is among the many urban districts that are struggling to meet the law's requirement. Similarly, many rural districts fall short of compliance because teachers often have to teach multiple subjects for which they may not always be academically certified. Such difficulties have prompted the federal Department of Education to consider extending the deadline another year, on a state-by-state basis, and Maryland is waiting to see whether it will be invited to seek such a waiver.
City school officials have aggressively enticed experienced teachers from overseas, particularly the Philippines, and they have been going after recent graduates and mid-career professionals who want to pursue teaching after having worked in other fields. With help from the State Education Department, city schools are being more strategic in their recruiting efforts, identifying staffing shortages earlier so that offers can be made to desirable candidates before they sign up with other districts. In addition, city schools are doing a better job of targeting those local colleges and universities where they have had previous recruiting success.
These are among the efforts that helped increase the city's pool of highly qualified teachers from 35 percent during the last school year to 42 percent this year. Not bad progress, but there's still a long way to go.