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Published in Print: October 10, 2001, as Chicago Moves to Curb Unlicensed Teachers

Chicago Moves to Curb Unlicensed Teachers

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Stung by a newspaper probe that found thousands of unlicensed teachers in city classrooms, Chicago school leaders announced a crackdown last week.

The district took action in response to stories published last month in the Chicago Sun-Times. The newspaper found that 15 percent of the system's 25,000 teachers are unlicensed, either because they are awaiting test results, have out-of-state-licenses, or flunked the state's battery of teacher tests.

City officials put that figure at 6 percent to 7 percent, but do not dispute that Chicago has a problem. Last week, they declared two immediate changes to city rules and proposed three others for the state to make.

New teachers in Chicago must now sign a form allowing district officials to learn how many times they took teacher tests. Also, district administrators will audit 81 of the system's lowest-performing schools by the end of the month to find out the number of uncertified teachers working there.

Arne Duncan, the school system's chief executive officer, cited the case of one Chicago teacher who has worked without a license for 26 years, a circumstance that he said "defies logic."

The newspaper found that hundreds of teachers had never passed the state licensing test, despite repeated attempts, but were assigned to classrooms anyway.

"I was aware of the issue for a while," Mr. Duncan said of teachers taking state tests multiple times, "but the problem is we didn't have access to teacher-test information because of privacy concerns. Now, with this change, we do."

State Changes?

Mr. Duncan also wants state education officials to adopt changes in how teachers are licensed.

One of those would curb how long teachers can work without having to pass the state's basic-skills and academic-content tests, which a candidate must pass to become fully licensed. Under the plan, substitutes could work no more than two years, while bilingual and special education teachers could work no more than three years before becoming fully licensed.

Michael Scott, the president of the city's school board, said in a statement that he expects the board to approve Mr. Duncan's proposals for state action.

The 431,000-student system, the nation's third largest, is the only district in Illinois that is permitted to allow those holding substitute certificates to work indefinitely, said Pat Glenn, a principal-accountability consultant for the state board of education. Bilingual and special education teachers are allowed to work up to eight years without full licenses.

In addition, Mr. Duncan called on the state board to allow aspiring teachers to take the state licensing tests no more than three times. After three tries, they would be required to receive additional training.

The schools chief also proposed that prospective teachers be required to pass both a basic-skills and a content-knowledge test before graduating from a preparation program.

"It's a fabulous idea. We are absolutely on board," said Barbara L. Nourie, an associate dean of the college of education at Illinois State University in Normal and a member of the state teacher-certification board, referring to Mr. Duncan's request for higher standards in education schools. Her university has the state's largest teacher education program.

The city's proposals come as the state board is changing its teacher tests, seeking to make them more challenging.

In August, the board approved using what it called a "significantly more rigorous" basic- skills test, aimed at measuring college-level knowledge rather than 8th or 9th grade material.

By July 2003, the Prairie State will require a third test, on pedagogy, for teacher-candidates. The state board also is studying whether to switch from its custom-designed tests, prepared by National Evaluation Systems of Amherst, Mass., to a nationally normed exam of teachers' knowledge and skills.

Ms. Glenn noted, however, that stiffer teaching requirements could exacerbate the state's expected shortage of teachers and administrators. She said it was probable that fewer teachers would pass the more difficult test.

Vol. 21, Issue 6, Page 3

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