Sub teachers often lacking in education

Published: Monday, January 19, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 19, 2004 at 2:49 a.m.
ORLANDO - Many substitute teachers who stand in front of Florida classrooms every day aren't required to have a college education, and students' test scores may drop as they spend more time with fill-ins, a newspaper study found.
A months-long study by the Orlando Sentinel found that several Florida counties required no more than a high-school equivalency degree to be a substitute teacher, students who spent at least four weeks with substitutes scored lower on reading tests than peers in the same school, and many of the worst educated subs were found in struggling schools.
Even people in the field said unqualified substitute teachers could compromise students' education.
"There is a growing concern among parents, teachers, administrators and civic leaders that the majority of substitute teachers are failing students in the classroom because they do not have adequate education, credentials or skills to do the job," said Shirley Kirsten, president of the National Substitute Teacher Alliance
Florida - along with 21 other states - requires only that its thousands of subs have a high school equivalency degree. Beyond that, requirements are determined on a county level.
Broward, Charlotte, Flagler, Indian River, Lee, Leon, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties all require some college experience. Flagler and Sarasota counties require bachelor's degrees for substitute teachers.
In Miami-Dade, the nation's fourth-largest school district, school officials set a relatively high bar for potential subs, and still drew together a list of 6,000 people with 60 hours of college credit and a 2.5 grade point average.
But other counties said they can't staff classrooms if requirements are too high. Last year, Monroe County lowered a standard requiring subs to have 60 college credits or an associate's degree when demand outstripped supply in the Florida Keys.
Some say having a college education does not predict a substitute's success.
"High school graduates might come in and do a very good job," said Emma Newton, deputy superintendent for Orange County schools. "The extra education is nice, but it's not a total indication of classroom performance."
Low pay may be a reason schools can't attract better substitutes. Several Florida counties offer $6 an hour.
"Some people would consider subbing if they were getting paid a decent wage," said Seminole County teacher Nancy Cox, president elect of the Florida Parent Teacher Association. "Unfortunately, for some people, it just becomes a way to earn money when they can't do anything else."
Students can pay the price for an unqualified pool of temporary teachers. Children who can't pass the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test risk repeating third grade, or not graduating from high school.
A Sentinel review of the performance of students in 62 Orange County language arts, English and reading-related classes found students who had spent at least four weeks with substitute teachers scored 11 points lower on the reading portion of the FCAT than others in the same school.
Richard Ingersoll, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania's graduate school of education, said that's a "common sense" conclusion, when other students have certified teachers.
Some of the worst-performing schools are not only more likely to have subs, but they are more likely to hire subs without college experience.
Within Orange County, for example, schools given a C or D rating, which are often in poor neighborhoods, were more likely to use substitute teachers and to require that they have only a high school education than schools with A ratings.
As federal requirements insisting on more teacher certification come into effect, the reliance on substitute teachers may grow.
President Bush's education reform law, the so-called No Child Left Behind Act, requires all teachers to be certified in their field by 2005. If there aren't enough teachers to meet those standards, principals must turn to subs.
The only national requirements related to substitutes are that parents must be told if their children have been taught by uncertified teachers for four consecutive weeks.
And, as federal education reforms come into effect, teaching assistants, who will be required to have a two-year college degree, may be better educated than substitutes.

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