Dozens who aren’t certified teach in metro classrooms

More than 100 teachers in metro Atlanta are not certified to teach in classrooms. (AJC FILE PHOTO)

More than 100 teachers in metro Atlanta are not certified to teach in classrooms. (AJC FILE PHOTO)

DeKalb County has hired about five dozen uncertified teachers this school year to fill some of its special education vacancies.

It’s one of many districts waiving certification to hire for hard-to-fill positions, amid a nationwide teacher shortage. Gwinnett has issued about 30 waivers, as did Atlanta Public Schools. Cobb and Fulton have issued about a dozen apiece.

The practice, and lack of plans for eventually getting these new teachers certified, causes concern to some about the quality of education.

“We need to have a short-term, long-term plan … that these people start working on certification,” said DeKalb County Board of Education member Joyce Morley. “There is no plan right now. Just because you have it (the ability to use teachers who are not certified) doesn’t mean you use it to death.”

Leib Sutcher, a research associate with the Learning Policy Institute, a policy research nonprofit, said districts are leaning on underprepared teachers, increasing class sizes or canceling courses to handle the demand. “A district has only so many options,” Sutcher said.

But he said statistics on uncertified teachers show more often than not, they exacerbate the problems. Many leave the district at two to three times the rate of certified teachers.

“Not only are they worse for student outcomes, but they act as a Band-Aid solution,” he said. “It’s just a stop-gap solution in the short term.”

As college programs churn out teaching candidates at alarmingly low rates, schools nationally are short about 60,000 teachers, mostly in critical need areas. The teacher shortage impacts about 1 percent of schools with low minority populations and four times that many in high minority populations or those with high poverty rates.

Some Georgia districts are allowed to hire teachers who lack certification because of the districts’ “strategic waiver school system” status, which offers flexibility on some rules in exchange for increased accountability from the state.

Special education, arts as well as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are critical-need areas for teachers, as they have been in previous years.

Throughout Georgia, the last recession had a lingering effect on public school teachers' pay. From the 1999-2000 to 2012-13 school years, the average salary shrank 5.7 percent, according to U.S. Education Department statistics.

Hiring teachers in Georgia has become harder as districts increase starting pay to become more competitive and the number of people wanting to become teachers in Georgia shrinks. During the 2007-2008 school year, 12,436 students received teaching certificates for the first time, according to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission. That number currently is closer to 8,500. A similar trend exists nationally.

Leo Brown, the DeKalb County School District’s chief human capital management officer, said many of the special education teachers hired on certification waivers have spent time in classrooms or have experience that makes them qualified for the job. They also are paired with teachers to help with the instructional curve.

“We don’t just waive certification,” he said. “We have a system of support for each of our waivers. Certification is, of course, valued. But we understand there are individuals with content knowledge who can come in immediately and teach. We see the value in content knowledge available to help our students.”

There’s no formal incentive in place to motivate a teacher on waivers to gain certification, Brown said.

In neighboring Fulton County Schools, about 45 teachers are on active certification waivers, dating back to the 2014-2015 school year. The state’s largest charter school district since 2012, Fulton has used waivers the past several years to hire uncertified teachers. Ron Wade, Fulton County Schools’ chief talent officer, said there’s no process in place for Fulton’s uncertified teachers to gain certification.

“Certificate doesn’t always translate to effectiveness,” he said.

But it shows commitment to the craft, Morley said, adding it sets an example for the students they teach.

“They need to be models and role models for our children and show they strive for the highest levels of education,” she said. “That would be a great way for our children to be able to see the teachers are reaching for greater heights academically. It can be used as a teachable moment to inspire the children.”

How many teachers are on certification waivers?

These school systems have hired approximately this many teachers this year who have not attained certification for the subject they’re teaching.

DeKalb 60

Gwinnett 30

Atlanta 30

Cobb 12

Fulton 12*

*Fulton County has about 45 teachers working on certification waivers dating from the 2014-15 school year.

How much is a certified starting teacher paid?

These school systems’ salary schedules for the current school year list these pay rates for beginning teachers with a bachelor’s degree and no experience

Atlanta Public Schools $45,198

DeKalb County $44,650.47

Fulton County $44,016

Cobb County $42,364

Clayton County $38,977

Gwinnett County $37,967