Louisiana’s top public school teachers are certified and experienced, but the state trails the nation in both categories, according to a report released Thursday by legislative auditor Mike Waguespack.
The state has the fifth-highest rate of uncertified teachers — 9% — and the fourth-most teachers in their first or second years in the classroom — 16%, depending on the review.
The national figures are 3% and 12% respectively.
“According to our analysis, increasing the average number of years of teacher experience and the percentage of certified teachers can improve the effectiveness of Louisiana’s teaching staff and, therefore, improve the quality of education that in-state students receive,” the report said.
Waguespack wrote the report to assess how differences in qualifications, pay, and other issues affect student retention and performance.
Louisiana, like much of the country, faces a teacher shortage that has spread from math, science and special education to include virtually every subject.
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In his written response to the report, state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said the state needs 2,000 more teachers to staff classrooms today.
Louisiana’s teacher shortage is worsening with rising retirements, the number of new teachers plunging, and superintendents finding it increasingly difficult to fill classroom positions.
The state has suffered from low student achievement in public schools for generations, and the disproportionate number of uncertified teachers has been a long-standing sore spot.
Certified teachers must earn a college degree, finish with at least a 2.5 out of 4.0 grade point average, and pass a national teacher exam.
About 1 in 5 teachers here are uncertified or teach outside their area of expertise, and the report says that has consequences.
A total of 51% of certified teachers finished in the top two scoring categories in the state, compared to 43% of uncertified educators.
Moreover, 53% of teachers with four or five years of experience finished in the first two years compared to 43% of those who were in their first or second year in the classroom.
Some retired teachers would be allowed to return to work for double the current rate under a bill that won House approval 96-0 on Monday.
According to the audit, only 6% of teachers in A-rated schools are uncertified, compared to 24% of those in F-rated schools.
Waguespack also said that only 50% of teachers in charter schools are certified, compared to 92% in traditional public schools.
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Among New Orleans public schools, all of which are charters, 54% of teachers are uncertified, compared to 12.5% statewide.
State law allows charter school teachers to be uncertified, as part of a desire to provide innovative ways to deliver instruction.
The Legislature is in the process of approving $1,500 salary increases for teachers.
But Louisiana remains 12th of the region’s 16 states in teacher pay, and many were disappointed that lawmakers failed to grant increases of $2,000 despite Gov. John Bel Edwards’ efforts.
The average salary is $51,566 per year.
Brumley said heads of state should listen to teachers to better understand their working conditions.
“Today, unfortunately, too few of our teachers encourage students, friends and neighbors to consider a career in education,” he wrote.
“Even in our colleges of education, we’re seeing about 500 fewer education graduates every year compared to just a decade ago.”
In comments accompanying the report, Brumley said the state should pursue a variety of measures to bolster the teaching ranks, including new compensation models, better high school pathways for aspiring teachers, and easier ways to those from other professions to enter the classroom.
The average teacher salaries included in the report are Ascension, $53,905; Center, $51,123; East Baton Rouge, $54,457; Jefferson, $52,287; La Fayette, $49,103; Livingstone, $50,243; St. Bernard, $51,855; St. Tammany, $54,246; West Baton Rouge, $54,180 and Zachary, $55,779.
The full report is available at lla.state.la.us.