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NCLB Outrages

Charters Use Teachers Not Fully Certified

Read the NCLB loophole for charters.

About 45 percent of the teachers in the state's nearly 250 charter schools lack full state certification, according to Ohio Department of Education figures. Many of those teachers instead hold long-term substitute credentials, state records show.

That's a sharp contrast to traditional public schools, where nearly 98 percent of classroom teach ers in core subjects are fully certified.

The reason for the certification gap: A loophole in the federal No Child Left Behind law allows teachers in charter schools to be held to a different standard from their colleagues in traditional public schools. And in Ohio, that standard does not include full certification.

"Something needs to be done about that," said State Board of Education member Sam Schloemer of Cincinnati. "The intention of charter schools was to offer an alternative to regular public schools, not something less."

Researchers agree that having a qualified teacher is crucial to a student's success. Research also shows that giving poor and minority children qualified teachers dramatically closes the achievement gap between them and their more affluent peers.

In Ohio, for instance, school districts in academic emergency have by far the lowest percentage of "highly qualified" teachers in core courses such as math, English, science, social studies, foreign languages and civics and government. In one such district, the Dayton city schools, only 27 percent of the teachers in core subjects were rated "highly qualified" last school year.

Full state certification is one of three requirements for being a "highly qualified" teacher under federal and state definitions.

The other two requirements are having at least a bachelor's degree and demonstrating knowledge in the subject they teach.

But researchers don't always agree on what makes a teacher "highly qualified," especially in charter schools designed to provide alternative ways to teach and learn.

"I'm not sure the definition is the best one," said Patricia Sullivan, director of the Center on Education Policy in Washington, D.C. "I don't care what your education credential is if you're good at what you do."

What is clear is that traditional public schools would not be able to get away with having almost half their teaching staff lacking full credentials.

NCLB will require all public schools to have "highly qualified" teachers in all core subjects by the end of the 2005-06 school year.

Federal law requires schools to notify parents if their child has a teacher who isn't highly qualified, and parents have the right to have the child transferred to a class with a better-qualified instructor.

But federal law specifies that certification requirements for charter school teachers are governed by each state's charter-school regulations, said Ohio Department of Education spokesman J.C. Benton.

In Ohio, that means charter school teachers can teach any subject or grade with any teaching credential, Benton said.

However, like their other public school peers, charter school teachers are required to have at least a bachelor's degree and must demonstrate knowledge -- through a test -- of any core subject they teach, he added.

School-choice advocates say that kind of flexibility is crucial to the mission of charter schools, which are operated with public money but run by private, nonprofit groups or for-profit management firms.

But critics counter that flexibility in Ohio has meant dismal academic results that fall, on average, well below those of regular schools. They say it's no coincidence that the state's top-performing charter schools have a high percentage of fully certified teachers.

"They're doing a good job while other charter schools are circumventing the guidelines of No Child Left Behind," Schloemer said.

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— Scott Stephens
Cleveland Plain Dealer


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