State fights teacher deficit

Rising enrollments, retirements take toll in classroom

`We are in a crisis'

Year-round work, scholarship programs among ideas discussed

October 21, 1999|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

BOWIE -- Facing its most severe teacher shortage in decades, Maryland must do everything from increasing salaries to boosting respect for the profession, top educators and politicians said yesterday.

Other ideas proposed to attract more qualified teachers into Maryland's classrooms include paying teachers to work year-round, expanding support programs for new teachers, and recruiting more middle and high school students to consider teaching as a career.

"This is not about stuffing a body into a classroom and saying we have met our goal," said Gov. Parris N. Glendening. "We need to attract the very best and brightest into a lifelong career of teaching."

The educators and politicians gathered at Bowie State University at the governor's request to discuss ways to solve the problem of too few qualified teachers to meet Maryland's increasing demand. Many of the ideas suggested yesterday are likely to be incorporated into legislative proposals this winter from the governor and state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

Maryland's public schools hired about 5,600 teachers last year, and state officials predict that local districts will need to hire as many as 11,000 teachers annually by September 2001 -- and possibly more if the state increases its efforts to reduce class sizes.

The growing demand stems primarily from rising student enrollments, and an anticipated wave of retirements among teachers who are baby boomers: About 52 percent of the state's teachers will be eligible to retire by 2003, Grasmick said.

In contrast, 2,500 new teachers graduate each year from the state's colleges and universities, and half of them either take out-of-state jobs or decide not to enter teaching.

The gap between Maryland's demand for teachers and the supply produced by its colleges is particularly critical in a handful of subject areas: Last year, Maryland colleges graduated no teachers certified in physical science or physics, and only one in computer science.

"The children do not stop coming to our schools," Grasmick said. "We are in a crisis in Maryland."

Initiatives in place

The state and local school systems have put in place a variety of initiatives to increase the pool of teachers, including expanding scholarship programs, offering signing bonuses, and changing Maryland's pension rules to allow retired teachers back into classrooms without losing retirement benefits.

Grasmick's budget proposal for 2000-2001 includes a request to the governor for more than $30 million in additional funding for the teacher shortage, though she has not proposed exactly how the money would be spent.

Yesterday's meeting focused on what Glendening described as "the other three Rs: recruitment, retention and rewards."

Participants said the most effective recruitment tool would be increasing the respect accorded to teachers by students, parents and even school administrators.

"The greatest recruitment we could have is if teachers are excited about what they're doing," said Edward L. Silver Jr., a Kent County teacher and the state's first teacher-in-residence. "The work is piling up on teachers, and they're getting burned out and discouraged. If kids see teachers burning out, they won't want to go into the profession."

State school board member Reginald Dunn suggested that Maryland needs to create a sense of excitement about teaching so that it has the cachet enjoyed by the Peace Corps in the 1960s.

"We have to bring the idealism back," Dunn said. "We need to articulate that there's a crisis and that this is the issue that's most important to Maryland's future."

Among the ideas proposed to make teaching more attractive to students are creating summer camps dedicated to teaching and adding more Future Teachers of America programs; Charles County has established the latter in all its middle schools.

"There's a message we have to deliver about the profession and why someone should join this profession," said Anne Arundel County schools Superintendent Carol S. Parham.

`Salary does matter'

No one suggested that the teacher shortage could be solved without the state and local systems spending significant amounts of additional money.

"We cannot demand better of our schools unless we are willing to pay for it," Glendening said. "Teachers need to be paid more. The simple fact is that salary does matter."

One alternative proposed was for teachers to work year-round -- increasing their salaries and eliminating the need of many to find second jobs. While teachers would get some vacation time in the summer, they also would be paid to teach summer classes for students who need extra help, write curriculum and receive more training.

"We could do so much more if we could have our teachers for 12 months," said Howard County schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey.

To reduce the number of new teachers who quit after only a few months or years, the state also should expand its mentoring, training and support programs, said Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, a nonprofit education reform group in Washington.

"Strong support programs can cut in half the number of new teachers who leave," Haycock said. "None of these things are simple, but none of them are terribly complex, either."

Pub Date: 10/21/99

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