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Teacher inequality? | Some teachers aren't certified in subjects they teach. It's worse in underprivileged schools.

A 13News Now investigation found schools with high percentages of economically disadvantaged students are almost twice as likely to have unqualified teachers.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Call it a recruitment issue or a retention problem. Blame it on a shrinking pool of graduates interested in education. There just aren't enough teachers entering the profession in Virginia right now, education leaders say.

"There's a national shortage, as you know, and that's trickling down to Virginia Beach [City Public Schools]," said Anne Glenn-Zeljeznjak, Virginia Beach City Public Schools Coordinator of Recruitment and Retention.

Currently, thousands of teachers across the Commonwealth are teaching outside of their subject area of expertise, filling gaps and learning on the job.

The Virginia Department of Education tracks this 'teacher quality' statistic. VDOE defines "out-of-field" teachers as teachers who are "not fully endorsed for the content they are teaching." This is different from teachers who are working on a provisional license, a separate statistic tracked by VDOE.

Ben Kiser, Executive Director for the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, said an increase in underqualified teachers can be correlated directly to the shrinking pool of teacher candidates.

"You will find that we have teachers that are not fully licensed in positions that used to have teachers that would be fully licensed," Kiser said. "Right now we are in dire straits [with teacher numbers]."

13News Now looked at the statistics for schools in Hampton Roads. On average, about 1.5% of teachers are teaching out of their field. This percentage is less than the state average, but it rises when narrowing the scope to review schools with more underprivileged students.

To get details about your school division or a specific school you can use this tool to search a database with information:

Among schools where at least 70% of students are considered "economically disadvantaged" by VDOE, about 2.6% of teachers are working out of field. Some schools report numbers of out-of-field teachers as high as 8, 11, or 13 percent.

"So that's a reality that Virginia has to address," Kiser said.

VDOE says a student is classified as "economically disadvantaged" if he or she is eligible for free or reduced meals, receives TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), or is eligible for Medicaid.

Parents say it's not hard to draw the conclusion - a higher number of out-of-field teachers in disadvantaged schools is an example of educational inequality.

"The more teachers they have that are qualified for the positions that they have, the better off the kids are," said Herbert Clay, a parent of a Ruffner Middle School student in Norfolk.

Kiser said that assumption has merit - that it's better to have fewer out-of-field teachers - but in practice, he said that's difficult to maintain.

"It's not an exact science of saying 'School A' should have the exact same ratios as 'School B,' when the communities are quite different and [teachers] make choices about where they should work and play," Kiser said. "But it's something we have to be concerned about."

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In addition to out-of-field teachers, VDOE tracks inexperienced teachers as well, or teachers in their "first year of classroom experience," per the department's definition.

Among all Hampton Roads schools, 3.7% of teachers are considered inexperienced. Among just the economically, disadvantaged schools, that number almost doubles to 7%. 

The statistics vary from school to school. For example, at Ruffner Middle School, 34.6% of teachers are either out-of-field, inexperienced, or both. 

To fix this, Kiser said state legislators need to step in with funding, and state education leaders need to be more creative about addressing school imbalances.

“By policy, it’s easy to say one size fits all, but, by implementation and practice, we need to be a bit more flexible," he said.

Kiser believes increasing teacher pay would significantly help both the recruitment and retention of teachers in Virginia, thereby hopefully decreasing the need for out-of-field and inexperienced teachers. 

He points to a recommendation list from the Virginia Public Education Coalition and its member organizations as key to solving some of the issues within the Virginia's educational system.

Kiser said state funding for education has fallen since the Recession in 2009, and state lawmakers need to restore 

"Virginia needs to step up and fund a more appropriate share of public education."

To view the percentages of out-of-field and inexperienced teachers in your school division or individual school, as well as "economically disadvantaged" and minority statistics, you can use this tool:

Reporter's Note: Newport News Public Schools reported to VDOE that 0% of its teachers across the district were "inexperienced teachers," indicating that there were 0 teachers in their first year of teaching experience. This was abnormal compared to other similar school divisions. When asked about its statistics, an NNPS spokeswoman said: "It seems as if an error occurred during the submission process...the school division typically hires about 100 or so novice (first-year educators) each year." When asked if the school division would be updating its report with accurate data, the spokeswoman said NNPS is not sure if it can correct the report at this point, and it will review to see if the district has the correct data.

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