By ALLYSON DICKMAN
WASHINGTON (Sept. 14, 2008)—Maryland leads the nation with its glaring gap in the number of quality teachers at wealthy versus poorer schools.
Maryland elementary schools in wealthy areas can boast 94.8 percent of classes taught by highly qualified teachers, however poor districts have 66.2 percent of classes taught by quality instructors, according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Education.
The 28.6 percent gap is 12 percent greater than the second-highest gap in Illinois.
Among secondary schools, Maryland's again led with a 25.7 percent gap between rich and disadvantaged schools.
The No Child Left Behind Act, passed in 2002, states all teachers must be highly qualified to receive federal funding.
A highly qualified teacher is one who has received a bachelor's degree in the subject they teach, has a state teacher's certification and demonstrates knowledge of the subject.
"While there might be many problems with No Child Left Behind, this is one of the many things that work," said Tom Carroll, president of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future. "It's getting better, but not fast enough."
Unqualified teachers lead 21e percent of classes in Maryland, according to the plan designed to improve the situation. Of these 20,924 classes, 47 percent are in high schools, 35 percent in middle schools and 29 percent in elementary schools.
"States have the ability under (No Child Left Behind) to set their own standards," said John Smeallie, acting deputy state superintendent. "Maryland has taken this law very seriously and in fact has a very rigorous standard and a very high bar."
The five states with the largest gaps have notably large urban populations, such as Baltimore, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Smaller gaps came from states with few urban districts.
"We shouldn't be thinking about this in terms of state to state, but high versus low poverty," Carroll said.
Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Prince George's County and Montgomery County make up 54.5 percent of Maryland's student population and account for seven out of 10 classes not taught by highly qualified teachers.
Baltimore City, a disadvantaged area, is responsible for 53 percent of classes taught by non-highly qualified teachers in Maryland.
"It's a very challenging market across the state," Smeallie said of hiring teachers. "Baltimore City may have difficulty competing because it's a tougher environment."
Teach for America has placed 174 teachers, considered highly qualified, in the city. But their help is temporary because there is no long-term commitment.
"High-performing schools in high-income communities don't have that revolving door," Carroll said, "They have accomplished teachers who have decades of experience."
The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future advocates for preparation and support programs for teachers.
"In our community here, superintendent (John) Deasy is actively trying to address this problem by looking into incentive operation systems working towards rewarding teachers for working in high need schools," Carroll said of Prince George's County.
Incentive programs, which pay teachers a higher salary for working in poorer areas, have helped New York City schools reduce the rich versus poor gap.
Fairfax County, which is a hybrid of wealthy and poor communities, is experimenting with teachers working in teams.
"This way, we don't leave the achievement of students up to an individual teacher, we need teams of educators working together," Carroll said.
The Maryland Board of Education is using state and local funding to institute nearly 200 programs for teachers. They hope to get teachers that schools already have qualified to teach multiple subjects and recruit new highly qualified teachers, Smeallie said.
"This year we're going to see a big bump," Smeallie said. "We don't have those numbers yet, but we're expecting to see progress."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.