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Study: Students may suffer if subs lack credentials

A review by the Orlando Sentinel found that few Florida counties require college degrees.

Associated Press
Published January 19, 2004

ORLANDO - Many substitute teachers who stand in front of Florida classrooms every day aren't required to have college degrees, and students' test scores might drop as they spend more time with fill-ins, a newspaper study has found.

A monthslong study by the Orlando Sentinel found that several Florida counties require no more than a high school equivalency degree to be a substitute teacher, students who spent at least four weeks with subs scored lower on reading tests than peers in the same school, and many of the worst-educated subs were found in struggling schools.

Florida, along with 21 other states, requires that its thousands of subs have only high school equivalency degrees. Beyond that, requirements are determined on a county level.

Broward, Charlotte, Flagler, Indian River, Lee, Leon, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties all require some college experience. Flagler and Sarasota counties require bachelor's degrees.

In Miami-Dade County, the nation's fourth largest school district, officials set a relatively high bar for potential subs and still compiled a list of 6,000 people with 60 hours of college credit and 2.5 grade point averages.

But other counties said they can't staff classrooms if requirements are too high. Last year, Monroe County lowered the requirement of 60 credit hours or associate's degrees when demand outstripped supply.

Low pay might be a reason schools can't attract better subs. Several Florida counties offer $50 a day, or $6 an hour.

Some say having a college education does not predict a sub's success.

"High school graduates might come in and do a very good job," said Emma Newton, deputy superintendent for Orange County Schools.

But others in the field said unqualified subs could compromise students' education.

"There is a growing concern among parents, teachers, administrators and civic leaders that the majority of substitute teachers are failing students in the classroom because they do not have adequate education, credentials or skills to do the job," said Shirley Kirsten, president of the National Substitute Teacher Alliance.

A Sentinel study of students in 62 Orange County language arts, English and reading classes found those who had spent at least four weeks with subs scored 11 points lower on the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test than others in the same school.

Richard Ingersoll, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania's graduate school of education, said that's a "common sense" conclusion, when other students have certified teachers.

Within Orange County, schools given a C or D rating, which often are in poor neighborhoods, were more likely to use subs and to require that they have only high school diplomas than schools with A ratings.

As federal requirements insist on more teacher certification, the reliance on subs might grow. President Bush's education reform law, the No Child Left Behind Act, requires all teachers to be certified in their fields by 2005. If there aren't enough teachers to meet those standards, principals must turn to subs.

The only national requirement related to subs is that parents must be told when their children have been taught by uncertified teachers for four consecutive weeks.

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