D.C. Councilman David Grosso is leading a chorus of city leaders in expressing outrage over a new report that revealed a large number of District public schoolteachers are unlicensed.
“I am again frustrated with D.C. Public Schools over this most recent failure to properly follow established law and regulations,” said the at-large council member, who chairs the Committee on Education. “These licensing requirements were put in place to ensure that our students are safe and that we have quality educators in our schools.”
The D.C. State Board of Education President Karen Williams told reporters that she learned about the number of unlicensed teachers after the report.
She acknowledged knowing that some teachers were unlicensed but said she didn’t realize just how many.
“I think that everybody should be certified who teaches in DCPS because that’s the rule,” Williams said.
Approximately 1,000 D.C. Public Schools teachers don’t have a D.C. teaching license, according to a yearlong investigation by local television news station WRC-TV (Channel 4).
An analysis of databases obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from D.C. Public Schools and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) show approximately one of every four D.C. Public Schools teachers worked without licensure during the 2017-18 school year, the station reported.
The unlicensed include new and veteran teachers, including at least four members of the elite Chancellor’s Teacher’s Cabinet, which advises top school district officials on policies and meets monthly with the schools’ chancellor.
D.C. Deputy Mayor for Education Ahnna Smith said D.C. Public Schools is violating city regulations by employing unlicensed teachers, the station said.
In doing so, the school district is leaving itself vulnerable to possible sanctions and loss of grant money from the U.S. Department of Education, according to Smith.
“OSSE is working with DCPS on a corrective action plan to help DCPS fully comply with local teacher licensing regulations and ensure that current and future DCPS educators obtain and maintain the proper credentials,” an OSSE spokesman told WRC. “Once the corrective action plan is complete, OSSE will monitor their progress against the plan to determine what other actions might be necessary.”
A D.C. Public Schools spokesman said the school district will begin stiffening its requirements for the 2018-19 school year. He said the school district will require all newly hired teachers apply for their license with the OSSE before beginning work.
The spokesman said the school system would work with the teacher’s union to notify veteran teachers about the need to get licenses.
DCPS says it conducts background checks on all applicants for positions.
Neighboring school districts, including Prince George’s County Public Schools and Anne Arundel County Public Schools, said 100 percent of its teachers are licensed through the state. Any teacher without a license is considered and classified as a “substitute teacher.”
“Licensure is just one of many components we look at to determine whether a teacher is meeting our high standards,” a DCPS spokesman said. “Even before they receive an offer letter, teachers must complete a rigorous selection process that identifies the teachers with the greatest potential to thrive in DCPS classrooms.”
Teaching licensure also helps prevent teachers with histories of misconduct from crossing state lines to find work in other school districts.
The national NASDTEC database red-flags teachers who have had licenses revoked, disqualifying them from obtaining licenses and teaching positions in other states. The database includes approximately 80,000 names.
But teachers who work without licenses can avoid being detected by the NASDTEC system since they do not have licenses to revoke.
“The safety risk is not just for kids in D.C., but in other jurisdictions,” Weedon said.
Grosso said he applauds OSSE for continuing to hold DCPS to account and working with the central office to certify that educators have the proper and up-to-date licensure for the 2018-19 school year.
“However, there remains a greater question about whether we have the appropriate requirements in place for all school staff in both our traditional public and public charter schools,” he said. “The Committee on Education will be focused on that question over the summer as part of its work to improve school safety and will hold hearings on this matter once the council returns from its recess in September.”