The test scores of Kendra Salvador’s students suggest she’s doing an excellent job teaching math at her inner-city charter school, but state education officials keep telling her principal she has to go back to college or lose her job.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” Jeff House, the principal of Achievement First Middle School, said while standing at the back of Salvador’s class. “Look, she’s closing the achievement gap. Don’t make me fire her.”
Charter schools, like regular public schools, are allowed to hire teachers who lack state certification, but the teachers must get certified within two years. Generally, that requires returning to college.
Meeting the certification requirement has been a problem at some charter schools. Seven of Achievement First’s 57 teachers in Hartford are uncertified, according to the State Department of Education, which has repeatedly warned school officials that teachers must be working toward certification or lose their jobs.
Now state legislators are considering a proposal to allow the state’s education commissioner to waive the certification requirements for charter school teachers and administrators with a proven record of success.
“It was my intention to come up with a plan where good teachers would not be sent away. This would make sure that doesn’t happen,” said Sen. Andrea Stillman, the co-chairwoman of the Education Committee.
“If you have someone in the classroom who is getting results, let’s keep them in the classroom,” echoed Rep. Andy Fleischmann, of West Hartford, the other Education Committee co-chair. “Let’s protect students from losing a great teacher or great administrator because they don’t meet one thing on a bureaucratic checklist.”
The State Department of Education is supportive of providing the schools with some flexibility in their hiring decision, said spokesman Tom Murphy.
“While we have some concerns about maintaining quality, we are supporting the bill,” he said. “It’s a double-edged sword and we need to make sure quality teaching prevails… This is very controversial, the education community is very split on this.”
The state’s largest teachers union is one of the leading opponents of making teacher certification optional in the charter schools.
“There are reasons why we have licenses and certifications: for assurances of what are proven to be successful strategies in teacher methods,” said Ray Rossomando, the legislative coordinator for Connecticut Education Association. “We shouldn’t just allow [charter schools] to throw all those requirements out — we wouldn’t do that for lawyers or for doctors.”
Stillman said the proposal would limit the waivers granted to 15 percent of the teachers and administrators at any individual school. According to the Department of Education, nearly 12 percent of the teachers in the state’s 18 charter schools and half of the administrators lack certification.
Stillman said teachers and administrators granted waivers still would have an incentive to become certified, because otherwise they won’t qualify for pensions.
“I would hope and think they would still do it anyways,” she said.
House said he understands the need for educational-attainment requirements, but “it’s not like we are just picking these people off the street… Hiring decisions are the most important decisions I make.”
He recruited Salvador from the highly regarded Teach for America program, where she taught in Los Angeles before deciding to move to Connecticut.
“There is so much more to being able to teach urban students than certification,” he said. “These teachers are like a coup for students and the type of teachers urban students need.”
He also points to the test results of these teachers’ students, noting Salvador’s students from the North End of Hartford are outscoring their peers across the state.
Test results reported by the SDE shows show 94 percent of Achievement First’s sixth graders were proficient last year in math, 6 percentage points higher than the state average. Fleischmann said during the public hearing on the proposal that some schools with 100 percent of their teachers certified score well below the results charter schools have achieved.
The Rossomando said just looking at one grade’s test results doesn’t really tell the whole story, and charter schools “cherry pick” favorable results.
“It is fair to conclude that charters neither underperform nor over‐perform comparable district schools,” the report says. “There are a (very) few high‐performing, high‐poverty charter schools. But even in these instances, there are several non‐magnet district schools with similarly high performance — and higher poverty rates.”
But Salvador said while requiring all teachers be certified is an admirable goal, it’s not coupled with reality of what’s needed.
“For whatever reason, they think I should go back to school all over again,” she said. “They don’t take into account my performance. I will get certified if I have to do it, but it’s just not at the top of my list of priorities. I am more worried about what my students need than what bureaucrats are telling me what paperwork I need.”
Eric Brummitt, a music teacher at the school who also is uncertified, said aside from not having the time to go back to school, he also doesn’t want to spend up to $10,000 to take courses he has already taken–many of which he taught himself while earning his doctorate at the University of Michigan.
“That’s pretty ridiculous,” he said.
But the CEA’s Rossomando thinks it’s ridiculous that these teachers and administrators think they are above the law.
“You have schools that continually flout the law, and now they want to change the law? That’s a bad idea,” he said.