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Grading the States and “Passing the Trash”

A USA Today investigation, led by Steve Reilly, a Pulitzer Prize-finalist, was released on February of 2016 and caused waves in schools across America. The investigation focused on America’s system for checking teacher’s backgrounds and found that system to be extremely flawed and lacking.

Over the course of a year, the USA Today Network collected databases of certified teachers and disciplined teachers, as well as a private nationwide disciple database that some states use to run background checks on teachers. The investigation was the most comprehensive national review of teacher discipline performed, including any review performed by federal or state agencies.

After compiling all of the information found, USA Today graded each state on:

  • How thoroughly a state checks an applicant’s background before issuing a teaching license
  • If the state shares licensing and disciplinary information about sanctioned teachers publicly, as well as if the state reports its own sanctions effectively to the nationwide database
  • And lastly, whether or not a state has laws mandating that educators, schools, and school districts report any misconduct to the state

What the USA Today database showed was shocking. The names of around 9,000 educators that were disciplined by state officials are missing from a clearinghouse operated by the non-profit National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) . Of those 9,000 educators, at least 1,400 of them had their licenses permanently revoked, and 200 of those were prompted by allegations of sexual or physical abuse. With their names not being included in the Clearinghouse, these 9,000 educators can easily (and often do) hide any past misconduct when they applied for a teaching license and job in another state. The federal U.S. government does not maintain a national database listing all teachers who permanently lost their licenses.

The names being absent from the NASDTEC clearinghouse was not the only thing USA Today found; perhaps the most disturbing practice that was revealed during the course of the investigation was the “passing the trash” practice that is occurring among state education agencies across the country.  Instead of reporting teachers who are suspected of abusing minors to law enforcement or other ranking agencies, the education system allows the teachers to move into different districts (where the allegations made against the teacher are unknown most of the time) and become somebody else’s problem.

Part of this could be because school administrators are rarely penalized for failing to report problem teachers to state licensing officials or law enforcement. Even though 41 states have laws mandating public school administrators to report a teacher’s firing or resignation to the state education officials. By passing the trash, schools not only rid themselves or problem teachers, but this practice can also help in avoiding costly lawsuits and teacher union negotiations.  However, the cost for the students who were victims, or may become victims, is devastating.

The USA Today report card by state:

A: Oregon, Hawaii, North Dakota, Alabama, Ohio, Vermont, and South Carolina

B: Washington, California, Arizona, Texas, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey

C: Alaska, Montana, Colorado, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Minnesota

D: Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Mississippi, Missouri, Virginia, Delaware, Connecticut, and Rhode Island

F: New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Tennessee, West Virginia, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, and Washington D.C.

Additional reading:

Know the Warning Signs of Educator Sexual Misconduct by Charol Shakeshaft

Child Abuse and Mandated Reporting by Shirley Woika & Carissa Bowersox