State: DISD lags in teacher quality; District says numbers are better than those reported to TEA

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

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Nearly a third of DISD teachers in core academic subjects fall short of federal teacher-quality standards, according to a new set of data from the Texas Education Agency.

That is by far the worst showing among Texas’ large urban districts – more than twice the percentage of second-worst Houston.

But Dallas Independent School District officials said their numbers are substantially better than what they reported to the TEA. That’s because they intentionally underreported the number of qualified teachers to make sure their numbers were solid, officials said.

“We wanted to make sure we could stand by what we reported,” said Mary Roberts, Dallas’ deputy superintendent for human resources.

The federal No Child Left Behind law requires that all public school teachers be “highly qualified” by the 2005-06 school year, though the law prescribes no penalties for schools that fall short. The new TEA numbers are based on 2002-03 information.

Under the law, each state is allowed some leeway to define what, exactly, makes a teacher “highly qualified.”

In general, a Texas teacher must have a bachelor’s degree, be certified or on a path to certification, and demonstrate knowledge of his or her subject area. The knowledge requirement is most often satisfied through a standardized test or through college coursework.

In Dallas, 30.4 percent of teachers in core academic subjects were not highly qualified. Among the state’s largest 10 districts, Houston and Fort Worth were closest to DISD’s figure. Both reported that about 12 percent of teachers were not highly qualified. No other major urban district had more than 10 percent.

That performance matches what The Dallas Morning News found in an analysis of state teacher data last year. The Teacher Preparation Index measured how many of a school district’s teachers are experienced and fully certified in the areas they teach. On a 1 to 10 scale that compared districts with one another, Dallas schools scored a 2, the lowest of any major urban district.

But Ms. Roberts said Dallas’ performance shouldn’t be compared to other urban districts because DISD was conservative in reporting how many teachers were “highly qualified.”

The district did not have enough time to fully audit its teacher records before data were due to the TEA in January, she said.

Instead, the district used state teacher certification data in compiling its numbers.

“That’s a higher standard,” she said.

She said that the audit of teacher records had been completed and that she expected to report different “highly qualified” totals this summer.

Still, she acknowledged that the district was having trouble finding qualified teachers in certain critical areas, such as bilingual and special education.

TEA data also showed that Dallas had 1,309 core academic teachers who were working on nonstandard teaching permits, including emergency, nonrenewable or temporary permits. That’s the largest number reported of any district in the state.

“We’ve got a very big challenge ahead of us,” Ms. Roberts said.

In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Lancaster and DeSoto were the only other districts to have more than 20 percent of their teachers less than highly qualified. In addition to Fort Worth, Garland and Keller also had between 10 percent and 20 percent.

The TEA’s information was gathered from a voluntary survey of school districts done late last year.

Some districts, including Plano and San Antonio’s North East, chose not to complete the survey. TEA officials said the survey will not be voluntary in the future.