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Teacher Trouble

A newspaper investigation that alleged broad weaknesses in how Illinois certifies teachers has caused a stir in political and education circles in the state and prompted calls for change.

Sen. Dan Cronin, a Republican who chairs the Senate education committee, plans to hold hearings on teacher competency in November, in response to the Sept. 9 Chicago Sun-Times article. Chicago schools chief executive officer Arne Duncan, meanwhile, plans to propose ways to address the problem of uncertified teachers in the city schools, an aide said.

And with former Chicago schools CEO Paul G. Vallas running for governor, the issue has become a political football. The state Republican Party charged that Mr. Vallas, a Democrat, ought to wear a "dunce cap" for having hired uncertified teachers. A spokesman for Mr. Vallas dismissed the criticism as a "cheap shot."

The paper reported that almost 900 teachers in Illinois last year were uncertified, most of whom worked in the state's poorest schools. Also, it reported that state officials don't keep track of how many times it takes a teacher to pass the state's battery of certification exams. Teachers are given an unlimited number of attempts to pass.

Lee Milner, a spokesman for the Illinois state education department, could not confirm the newspaper's statistics, but said the state board of education plans to discuss the issues raised in the article at its Sept. 19-20 board meeting in the state capital of Springfield.

Carlos Ponce, the chief of human resources for the 433,000-student Chicago district, questioned the report's figures, but acknowledged that some uncertified teachers have worked in the system for years.

"Do we have a couple of people who slip through the cracks? Yes," he said. Last year, the district had 627 teachers who had been teaching for more than one year despite never having been certified, he said.

In Illinois, teacher candidates must complete college-course requirements, and pass a basic-skills test and a subject-matter knowledge test, to earn certification for their first four years.

—Mark Stricherz

Vol. 21, Issue 3, Page 24

Published in Print: September 19, 2001, as State Journal

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