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1998 -- Is This the Year of the Teacher Shortage?

It's a different world out there when some teacher candidates are offered hiring bonuses, relocation cost reimbursements, loan forgiveness or reduction! Or when one state is raiding teachers from another state! Others wonder, Does the United States really have a teacher shortage?

The summer of 1998 might be a sign of things to come for recruiters who are busy trying to fill teaching positions across the United States. Some experts predict that over the next decade 2 million teachers will need to be hired in the United States. The current workforce is graying and retiring early, just as class sizes are being reduced, they say.


Do the math, the experts entreat:
Smaller classes = more classes = additional teachers.
"Graying" teachers = more retirements = additional teachers.

Teachers, qualified teachers, are in demand and school systems are competing with one another to sign them on. Texas recruiters went to California to hire bilingual teachers after the passage of Proposition 227. In New York City, the Board of Education is recruiting math and science teachers from Austria. Some cities and towns are raising the ante, hoping that higher salaries will draw applicants for teaching positions. Other school districts sweeten their offers with hiring bonuses, reimbursement of relocation costs, and reduced or forgiven student loans.



In Baltimore, Mayland
The Baltimore schools provide a striking example of the extent to which a district will go. Because Baltimore competes with Washington, D.C., and the Virginia and Maryland suburbs, Baltimore needed something else.

Baltimore is offering $5,000 home-buying grants to new teachers, encouraging them to buy homes in the city. That offer is just one part of a recruiting strategy, which also includes higher starting salaries and relocation expense reimbursement. The strategy appears to be working: Since last August, 1,200 new teachers have been hired.



In North Carolina
The magic bullet for many North Carolina school districts came from cyberspace, according to a news story published by the News & Observer of Raleigh. "The state Department of Public Instruction added features to its Internet site giving recruiters from all counties access to thousands more applicants" than they had in past years, the report said.

And while Baltimore may help new teachers buy a home in that city, some North Carolina communities are adding homey touches. District officials "sell" the cozy family atmosphere of their rural systems. Mentors help new hires find apartments. And host families help applicants new to the area feel at home in the community.



In Mississippi
School systems in many Mississippi communities are dealing with impending teacher shortages -- and they have not yet found an answer. The Public Education Forum of Mississippi presented a report to legislators indicating that "Mississippi's teacher workforce is fast being depleted and the quality of education will be jeopardized if action is not taken to attract, support, and retain educators." They found that

  • Mississippi teachers are retiring or leaving the profession at a faster rate than new teachers are entering the state's classrooms.
  • The average number of teachers who graduate annually from Mississippi's 15 teacher education programs is declining.
  • More teachers are eligible to retire these days, and they are retiring at earlier ages.

As reported in the Mississippi Business Journal, teacher certification requirements in the state are among the toughest in the U.S. -- and the state's teachers earn less than teachers in many other states earn. According to the Forum's report:

  • Beginning teachers in Mississippi earn $20,150 per year, and the average teachers' salary is $26,801.
  • Nationwide, the average teacher salary is $37,436, $10,000 more than in Mississippi.
  • Compared to the four surrounding states, only Louisiana's teachers made less. In Alabama the average salary is $31,066, in Arkansas the average is $29,359, and in Tennessee it's $32,477.

To retain teachers, the Forum recommended that Mississippi legislators address the issues of appropriate compensation for educators.



In Austin, Texas
Schools in Austin are facing the loss of many teachers to higher paying jobs in both the private and public sectors. Former teachers appreciate the higher pay of their new positions outside education, but most make it clear that money wasn't the only reason they left teaching, according to an Austin American-Statesman report. Their reasons should not be dismissed but used as a guide to change.

Qualified math and science teachers are scarce in Texas, as in other areas of the country. And officials believe that contributes to low math and science scores on achievement tests.


"In math and the sciences, the scarcity is so acute that it's dragging down test scores, state education officials say. In 1996, more than half the 27,932 math teachers in Texas lacked the proper certification," the paper reports.

Proposals to provide stipends to science and math teachers, and teachers in other under-served areas have been discussed.



In Massachusetts
The public and legislators are calling for better-prepared teachers, so many states -- including Massachusetts -- are raising the requirements for teacher licensing and requiring new teachers to pass certification tests. Last April, Massachusetts administered a new teacher certification test -- which was passed by only 41% of the teacher candidates!

Some of the state's best-known colleges had among the highest failure rates on the new teacher certification test, according to detailed scores reported in the Boston Globe (July 24). Several of those schools are now reviewing their teacher-preparation programs, the paper reports.

The Globe also reported that John Silber, Chairman of the state Board of Education and Chancellor of Boston University, was disappointed in the performance of BU's teacher candidates. Silber said that "if BU students do not manage a 90 percent pass rate within the next two years, he will be among those recommending that the university close its school of education."

"'These scores were a real gut check for us," Janet Hookailo, a Northeastern University spokeswoman, told the Globe.

Massachusetts is seeking answers. One new proposal, by acting governor Paul Cellucci, attempts to meet the challenge with dollars. A new proposal to lure "top" candidates to Massachusetts teaching positions includes a $20,000 signing bonus and full repayment of college loans.



The reality of the shortage is more acute in the specific fields of math, science, and special education. Some areas of the country are feeling the pinch more than other areas. And, as the experience in Massachusetts has shown, testing of new teachers has had an impact.

A congressional subcommittee heard concerns about the focus on numbers in March. Concern was voiced that class-size reduction should only be implemented when adequate numbers of quality teachers are prepared for classroom work. Some other speakers feared that an emphasis on "increasing the supply of teachers" would conflict with "improving the overall quality of the teaching pool. Much of the testimony emphasized the need for higher standards both for teachers and for the schools that train them," reported Education Week (March 4).

Amid all the talk of teacher shortages, some sections of the country are inundated with applications for small numbers of teaching positions.

"If you're looking for a teaching job that's not smack in the middle of a city or 250 miles from the nearest highway, you may find it hard to believe that America faces a teacher shortage" says a Christian Science Monitor (March 17) report.

A highly structured bureaucracy controls teacher certification and training, says C. Emily Feistritzer, president of the National Center for Education Information (NCEI) in Washington D.C. "Anyone who wants to make more new teachers available can begin by dismantling this elaborate system, which locks out potentially highly qualified teachers while accrediting many who don't belong in the classroom," Feistritzer says in a story, ("The Truth Behind the 'Teacher Shortage'"), originally published by the Wall Street Journal in January. "But to claim that there is a teacher shortage is simply wrong -- there isn't one, and there won't be anytime soon."



Many of the front line people responsible for filling teaching positions believe that a shortage exists. If they can't fill the jobs, then they are facing a shortage. More respect for teachers and the teaching profession, and remuneration on a scale matching teachers' responsibility to prepare the workers of the future, could go a long way toward solving the problem.


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Article by Anne Guignon
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