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Charter Schools Fail to Address Teacher Credentialing Problems

Charter schools like RePublic School's Smilow Prep, in Jackson, are coming up short in credentialing teachers.

Black students historically have had less access to credentialed teachers and AP courses across the nation and in Mississippi, but new information from state monitors show the charter school formula is also failing to reckon with the problem.


Teacher quality affects student achievement, even if debate still rages over how much difference a master's degree makes in teacher quality. The consensus is that schools that put weak credentialed or non-credentialed teachers into classrooms with educationally disadvantaged children habitually widen achievement gaps associated with socioeconomic differences.


Data compiled by the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection Office for Civil Rights reveals that the racial component of that achievement gap still lingers after COVID. Only 1 percent of students (about 522,000 kids) attended public schools where less than half of the teachers met all state certification requirements. And 66 percent of those 522,000 students were Black and Latino.


“There are other careers that pay a good bit more,” said Frank Figgers, a board member of Mississippi’s Jackson Public School District. “People who go to college and major in math and science are usually looking for high-reward careers. Teaching isn’t one of them—not when it comes to money, anyway.”

“People who go to college and major in math and science are usually looking for high-reward careers. Teaching isn’t one of them—not when it comes to money, anyway.”


An earlier 2016 federal study of all 50 states and the District of Columbia found 1.7 percent of all teachers were not fully certified and the average jumped in disadvantaged schools and nonwhite districts. The average percentage of teachers not fully certified was 2.9 percent for both high-poverty and urban schools, and it crept up to 3.1 percent for schools with high proportions of students of color. It was 2.6 percent for schools with high proportions of English learner students.


The Mississippi legislature pushed unfunded charter schools into Mississippi’s biggest, majority-Black district in Jackson, however that effort has delivered middling results according to reports. All five of Jackson’s charter schools, including Smilow Collegiate, Midtown Public Charter, Reimagine Prep, Smilow Prep, and Ambition Prep Charter School failed to meet goals for teacher credentialing, despite schools’ stated independence of teacher unions or the state retirement system.


State law requires at least 75% of a charter school’s teachers meet state requirements for licensure. All teachers must also have a bachelor’s degree and demonstrate subject-matter competence through testing. The Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board does not publish how many teachers at each school remain uncredentialed, only that the schools failed to fulfill “at least one legal and contractual obligation related to teacher and employee credentialing,” and that the school’s failures to meet credentials “have not been remedied.”


Coupled with charter schools’ mediocre grade scores reported this year and their apparent financial drain upon their host district, the schools’ purported advantage of being independent of the local school board does not appear to provide a significant advantage.


Jackson Public School officials did not respond to requests for updated numbers on JPS' own percentage of credentialed teachers.

AP course availability also spotty


The national data, gathered during the 2020-2021 school year, when many schools remained at least partially closed for the COVID-19 pandemic, also revealed that advanced courses weren’t an option in many schools with a high Black student population. The number of courses in math, science and computer science was fewer at 5,500 public high schools where Black and Latino students comprised more than 75 percent of all students. Math courses like calculus weren’t offered in 35 percent of schools with high Black and Latino enrollment.


Advanced Placement classes at Jackson Public Schools is not an even spread over the district. At the time of the survey, Murrah High School was the only high school to supply math, science, and computer science courses. Callaway High School offered students access to AP Science, but no information was available for math or computer science. Forest Hill High School told federal surveyors that it provided only AP Science, while Jim Hill High School supplied Math and Science courses, as did Lanier High School, home and host to Bob Moses’ historic Algebra Project. Both Wingfield High School and Provine High School offered AP courses in Science only.


School officials did not immediately return calls to update that information either.


Madison High School, a wealthy district that is 65 percent white, reported AP courses in mathematics, science and computer science. However, Black students (who comprised 28 percent of the school at the time of the survey) represented only 7.7 percent of AP course participants. White students and Asian students comprised the brunt of classes.



A shortage of counselors


The nationwide survey also discovered a racial divide regarding access to school counselors. Compared to white students, Black students and students of two or more races were 1.2 times more likely to attend a school with a sworn law enforcement officers or security guard, but without a school counselor. For Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islander students and American Indian or Alaska Native students, that number was 1.4 times more likely.


Murrah High School reported four counselors and Chastain High School reported two, both serving about 345 students each without the benefit of a school psychologist or nurse. Many rural, majority-Black high schools like Sunflower County’s Gentry High School had a student to counselor ratio of 450 to 1, also without the benefit of a full-time nurse or psychologist. Many northeastern schools, such as Maine’s Portland High School (82 percent white) had a more manageable ratio of roughly 200 students per counselor, but with the addition of three social workers, one school nurse, and a part-time psychologist.


The same report also discovered Black students and students of two or more races continuing to be overrepresented in suspensions and expulsions.


“Black boys represented 8 percent of total K-12 student enrollment, but 15 percent of students who received one or more in-school suspensions, 18 percent of those who received one or more out-of-school suspensions, and 18 percent of those who were expelled,” the report claims.

The same report discovered Black students also to be overrepresented in correctional facilities, detention centers, jails, and prisons. The numbers echo information published by justice nonprofit The Sentencing Project, in 2021, which showed Black youth in Alabama being 2.8 times more likely to be held in a juvenile facility than their white peers. That disparity rate was 3.9 in Mississippi, but the problem is not endemic to the South, with a Black/white disparity in Delaware of 8.9, and 10.6 in Connecticut. New Jersey topped out the list with a Black/white youth incarceration disparity of 17.5.

Adam Lynch is a reporter for BGX. Send tips, story ideas (and complaints) to



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