The teaching corps of St. Louis Public Schools is becoming older and whiter. And that concerns Superintendent Kelvin Adams.
Adams has asked the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for more flexibility and pathways to getting quality educators into classrooms. It’s something state education officials said is worth serious consideration.
Because of lower pay and higher needs among its students, SLPS has a difficult time recruiting and retaining teachers. The district has fluctuated between 60 and 80 vacancies throughout this school year.
Adams told the State Board of Education in March he’d like more flexibility in hiring teachers, including the ability to use the same so-called “80/20 rule” as charter schools. Charter schools, which are independent public schools, are allowed to use up to 20% non-certified classroom teachers. Traditional districts, such as SLPS, need to have all certified staff. Allowing traditional districts to use 80/20 would require a change of state law.
Adams also asked the state school board to consider creating a system of “micro-credentialing,” where potential teachers can show competency through experience and demonstration.
“All those options are on the table,” said Paul Katnik, an assistant education commissioner at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. “What you have to balance it with is quality versus quantity.”
Tough certification requirements make it difficult for SLPS to move teacher’s aides and other support staff into classroom positions, Adams said, even if they have the desire and skills to work with students.
Older adults who have lived and worked in St. Louis know the students and the demands of the classroom better than younger teachers fresh out of college, Adams said.
“Teachers are coming out (of four-year teaching colleges) and we have to spend an entire year, two years, getting them prepared for the urban context,” Adams said. “They just don’t have the experience.”
SLPS uses Teach For America and is in its second year of using St. Louis Teacher Residency, which targets second-career adults, as non-traditional certification methods. Adams said the district is also putting more efforts toward mentoring and tutoring candidates through the certification process.
“We’re not in the certification business, but obviously because there’s a great need for us we’re putting money on the side to increase that pipeline,” he said.
Missouri has limited ways to teacher certification compared to other states, according to James Shuls, an education researcher at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
“We should be making it attractive and possible for those really talented individuals who get a desire to teach later in their life to come into the profession without jumping a whole lot of additional hurdles,” Shuls said.
Diversifying the teaching ranks
Missouri requires teaching candidates to pass a series of exams known as the Missouri Educator Gateway Assessments, or MEGA, before being allowed to teach. Teachers who were certified in other states can teach in Missouri without being recertified, according to Katnik.
Just under half of public school students in the country are white, but 80% of teachers are white. About the same percentage are women.
St. Louis Public Schools’ teachers are twice as diverse as the national average — around 40% — in a district of 21,000 students that’s 80% black. But Adams said he’s seen his teaching staff get older and whiter since being hired in 2007 and he’s struggled to recruit younger teachers of color.
He questions the equity of licensure exams, pointing to numbers showing blacks and Hispanics having a harder time becoming teachers. Education Testing Services found that black candidates are 40% less likely and Hispanic candidates were about 20% less likely than whites to pass a teacher exam.
“What we’re after is a high-quality, diverse and gender-balanced teacher workforce,” Katnik said. “That’s kind of our goal. We know now we’re not there.”
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