school bus stock

One in three teachers at F-rated public schools in Louisiana is either uncertified or teaching outside their field of expertise, according to a survey released Friday.

The survey also shows that less than one in five teachers – 19 percent – are uncertified or working outside their speciality in A-rated schools.

The results put numbers to what educators and others have long suspected – thriving public schools have the best teachers while students who need them the most are most often led by educators with the least know-how.

"Teachers gravitate to the environment that they think is the most conducive to them," said Gary Jones, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and a longtime educator.

"A-rated schools are great places to work," Jones added. "And it is difficult to get people to work in poverty-stricken schools and those with free and reduced lunches."

The survey carries special relevance since 2018 public school letter grades are set to be released by the state Department of Education on Nov. 8.

The grades spark yearly controversy, including charges that the results are misleading because they fail to account for poverty and other issues.

Backers call the annual snapshots a valuable way for parents and other taxpayers to see how schools are faring.

This year's results carry extra significance because top grades are expected to drop, and F-scores rise, amid tougher state benchmarks for rating schools.

The survey, called the 2017-18 Educator Workforce Report, was prepared by the state Department of Education and includes a wide range of statistics.

Certified teachers have earned a college degree, finished with at least a 2.5 grade point average out of 4.0 and passed a national teacher exam.

Those who teach outside their fields have a teaching certificate but lack certification in at least one class they teach, generally in secondary schools.

In a statement released Friday, state Superintendent of Education John White noted the survey also shows two of the most critical needs -- math and science teachers -- are the hardest to fill.

A total of 12 percent of math classes and 13 percent of science classes are taught by those working outside their field.

Eight percent of classes in those subject areas are led by uncertified educators.

The survey shows a direct  link between the top teachers and the best-rated schools.

While 19 percent of teachers in A-rated schools are uncertified or teaching outside their fields, it is 20 percent for B-rated schools, 24 percent for C-rated schools, 25 percent for D-rated schools and 33 percent for those given F's.

"It is hard to be successful in high-poverty areas with uncertified or inexperienced teachers," said Jones, a former superintendent who lives near Alexandria.

The percentage of those working outside their expertise – 14 percent statewide – is consistently higher than those who lack certification – 6 percent in all schools.

The state Department of Education on Friday announced it is taking applications for teachers to enroll in tuition-free college classes during the spring, 2019 semester.

Applicants who plan to teach science, technology, engineering and math – known as STEM – will get the first priority for the initial 21 slots.

Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said Friday state officials should award those slots to teachers from schools with the most uncertified teachers, especially in STEM subjects.

"I am not sure you want to cut out all the other schools but those educators in schools rated F should have the first shot at it," Meaux said.

Louisiana, like much of the nation, faces a growing teacher shortage.

The ranks of those who finished teacher preparation programs is down 18 percent since the 2010-11 school year, according to state figures.

Also, average pay for public school teachers in Louisiana has dropped below the regional average.

The Dallas Independent School District is planning a job fair in East Baton Rouge Parish and offering teachers $10,000 to sign up, Meaux said.

Larry Carter, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, was out of town Friday and unavailable for comment.

LFT spokesman Les Landon said the survey results back up what officials of the group have long concluded.

"The LFT has always known that one of the keys to a successful school is having qualified, certified teachers in every classroom," Landon said in an email.

"It's unfortunate that the reverse seems to be true in some of our most challenged schools," he said. 

"That's one of the consequences of the decade of neglect that saw support for schools stagnate and teacher salaries fall below the Southern regional average," Landon said.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.