Teacher deficit

October 10, 1990

Public education is a mess. Use any indicator you choose: the drop-out rate, students' inability to master basic skills or -- most important -- the large number of teachers who jump ship to other professions or those who never consider education at all.

A new report from the state Board of Education has found the latter to be a particularly pressing problem. Even with a scholarship program that gives students tuition aid in exchange for going into a field where there is a teacher shortage and then teaching in Maryland, the state will come up 300 teachers short in the 1991-92 school year. Predictably, there will be an "extraordinary shortage" of teachers in Baltimore city and the poorer counties -- Caroline, Garrett, Somerset and St. Mary's.

Why the disparity? For one thing, salary. For another, per pupil spending. Both are lower in jurisdictions that don't rake in a harvest of tax revenues. There are other problems, too, not the least being the bureaucratic hurdles that stand between bright, motivated liberal arts graduates and the classroom.

There are some problems the state must resolve -- principally, equalizing education funding and making it easier for liberal arts students to teach. But all that will take time, and the new report is a flashing red light. City schools Superintendent Richard Hunter -- and his counterparts in Caroline, Garrett, Somerset and St. Mary's -- need to be quick in coming up with short-term plans to address the pending teacher shortage so that next September they are not faced with the prospect of 30-odd kids crammed into an empty classroom, draining a system whose problems are already overwhelming.

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