FOX25 Investigates: Hundreds of Boston teachers working without proper licenses

BOSTON — Hundreds of Boston teachers are working unlicensed or under-licensed – a shocking discovery by FOX25 Investigates that caught city school administrators totally unaware.

Massachusetts requires every public school educator to have a license to teach, but nearly 200 Boston school teachers – including many math and science teachers – are blowing past state deadlines to obtain professional licenses.

Investigative Reporter Eric Rasmussen reviewed 3,000 pages of Boston Public School documents and found the problem has been going on for years. One former teacher – a Boston city councilor who campaigned on improving education – failed to get a professional license while teaching in East Boston for more than a decade.

State education officials told FOX25 they have no idea whether this same issue is happening in other school districts because teachers without professional license must track their own progress.

In Massachusetts, new teachers can apply for a “preliminary” license – which expires after five years. Educators must then seek the training to apply for an “initial” license, which is valid for 5 years and can be extended for another 5 years with permission from the state. After that, teachers must upgrade to a professional license and complete new training to renew the license every five years.

In all, teachers are given more than a decade to obtain a professional license.

Missed deadlines

But FOX25 Investigates found many Boston teachers missed state deadlines – including at least a dozen educators at exam schools, such as John D. O’Bryan School of Mathematics & Science and Boston Latin School.

FOX25 also found teachers without proper licenses working at some of the lowest performing schools, including Brighton High School, James P. Timilty Middle School and East Boston High School.

Annissa Essaibi-George worked as a teacher at East Boston High School for more than a decade before she joined the Boston City Council last year.

Despite campaigning on a platform of improving education, FOX25 Investigates found Essaibi-George never earned more than a preliminary license.

“I didn’t have an idea that there was an issue until I received a phone call from you,” she told FOX25.

Essaibi-George denied her failure to keep up with state licensing standards undermines her credibility to set education policy for the city.

“I am so proud of my experience at East Boston High and so proud of my work and my career and certainly am embarrassed that I had this issue with my license,” she said.

School administrators unaware

Boston Superintendent of Schools Tommy Chang said he learned about the problem from FOX25 Investigates.

“I did not know the scope of this exact number. I did not know this exact number,” Chang told FOX25’s Eric Rasmussen. “We have to make that fix and we will. We're taking the steps to make sure this doesn't happen again.”

About an hour after FOX25 interviewed Chang Wednesday, he sent out an email to teachers, reminding them of their “responsibility to maintain a valid license.”

Richard Stutman said the Boston Teachers Union had no comment on FOX25’s findings.

But Stutman suggested that some teachers may have merely forgotten to file licensing paperwork with the state.

“Let me ask you this, if your driver’s license expires, does that make you a bad driver?” Stutman asked FOX25 in a phone call last week.

When asked whether unlicensed teachers with should be barred from teaching – in the same way unlicensed drivers are barred from driving, Stutman hung up.

Kenya McDonald, a former Boston English teacher, said it’s important for teachers to obtain professional licenses and maintain them.

“Teaching, in itself, is a very difficult job,” said McDonald. “Every year, you get a different crop of students who come with different needs.”

Despite keeping her professional license up to date, McDonald says she was forced out after more than 20 years of teaching at Boston Public Schools – claiming administrators assigned her to subjects she wasn’t licensed to teach, such as math and science, and then gave her poor performance evaluations.

“I feel that they're doing the students a real disservice,” said McDonald.

McDonald said she loved working in Boston but was so frustrated she recently decided to leave for a job in another district – where she showed FOX25 she’s received good evaluations so far.

Boston school administrators declined comment on Essaibi-George’s license or McDonald’s complaints, citing privacy issues.

Most teachers without proper licenses will remain

School officials said the majority of the teachers cited in FOX25’s review could remain on the job if they applied for extensions and waivers from the state.

But FOX25 Investigates found an additional 144 Boston teachers – who are completely unlicensed – are already working on waivers from the state. Another 50 Boston teachers are unlicensed but have never received state permission to work on a waiver, according to Boston Public School officials.

Chang and city school officials could not say exactly how long it would take to fix the problem permanently and ensure all teachers obtain professional licenses within the decade the state allows.
Meanwhile, parents told FOX25 Investigates they had no idea so many Boston teachers were lacking in credentials.

Noelle Hallahan, a mother of four, told FOX25, “I'm not surprised. I don't think it's very transparent. I don't think Boston is very transparent.”