A new report released yesterday lauds the Philadelphia School District for doing a better job of hiring and keeping more qualified teachers since 2002, but also warns that problems persist in finding enough qualified teachers for schools with high numbers of poor and minority students.

To end the "teacher quality gap," the district should set specific targets and timelines for achieving greater equity, and use "robust" incentives such as creating smaller classes, hiring strong school leaders and offering extra pay, according to the report by Research for Action, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization.

"I think they've made huge progress against a lot of heavy odds," said Elizabeth Useem, one of the report's authors. "Now they have these big-ticket items that they have to take on. And they need money to do that."

The report found that from the 2002-03 and 2005-06 school years, the district made little progress in closing the gap between the number of fully certified teachers at schools with low numbers of poor and minority kids and schools with high numbers of those students.

In 2005-06, 96.7 percent of teachers were fully certified at schools where less than 50 percent of the students were from minority groups. By comparison, 87.7 percent of the teachers were certified at schools where 90 percent or more of the students were minorities.

In 2002-03, those same numbers were 96.6 percent compared to 87.5 percent.

When comparing by poverty level, in 2005-06, 93 percent of teachers were fully certified at schools where less than 80 percent of the students were from low-income homes. Just 86.6 percent of teachers were fully certified at schools where 90 percent or more of the students were from low-income homes.

"While a gap may still exist, the percentage of teachers staying and the percentage of teachers who are certified is at a record high - at all the schools," said schools chief Paul Vallas.

His office yesterday released a teacher fact sheet that showed 95 percent of the district's teachers are certified, compared to 90 percent in 2003. For new teachers, 92 percent are fully certified, compared to 47 percent in 2001. *