Education policymakers and lawmakers nationwide are vowing to strengthen teacher screening procedures in light of an investigation conducted by USA Today.
Investigators revealed that the nation’s database of disciplined teachers, coordinated by the nonprofit National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC), cannot find the missing names of thousands of educators who have been disciplined by state agencies.
Business Wire reports that a disorganized system of varying laws and regulations combined with executive mismanagement and flawed coordination has failed to keep unqualified and potentially dangerous teachers with checkered histories out of the classroom. Many of these teachers have been accused of sexually and physically assaulting their students. An extensive summary of the investigators’ findings can be located here.
The missing records have allowed disciplined teachers to secure jobs for which they would otherwise be disqualified. Steve Reilly from USA Today notes that several states such as Georgia, Indiana, North Caroline, and Tennessee have already begun internal policy reviews to revamp their teacher screening processes. Many of these disciplined teachers have moved to different states where they find work without any sort of red flag appearing on their background checks.
The worrying gaps in information largely caught the education world off guard.
Specifically, officials in Georgia added 100 names of disciplined teachers into the database after their absence had been made clear by investigators. Two of these disciplined teachers had been accused of having ongoing physical relationships with students.
Phillip Rodgers, a NASDTEC executive, said the organization had directed all 50 states to audit their previous submissions to the disciplined teachers’ database to ensure that the records are consistent with schools’ reports.
Lawmakers are considering a variety of measures such as putting limits on confidentiality agreements and requiring school officials to report any serious infractions of school policy to the Board of Education to strengthen background checks in the hope that the classroom remains a safe and productive environment. Though, as several reporters from Indystar note, some politicians may weaken in their resolve to push through tougher screening processes if politically powerful teachers’ unions object to the proposed changes.
If nothing else, the story has exhibited the influence journalists at USA Today exert on the national conversation. Overnight, the investigation has prompted comments from education officials from coast to coast.
“As the nation’s largest nationwide news organization … the USA Today Network has the power to drive the nation’s conversation and create major impact like no other media organization can today,” said Joanne Lipman, a content editor for the publication. “Everyday we are empowering the communities we serve by providing trusted information that has relevance at both the local and national level. We are asking the questions that matter most, at the core, is our commitment to investigative journalism.”