The education gap

Shortage: Legislature must find creative ways to attract bright graduates to classrooms.

November 08, 1999

WITH 52 percent of Maryland's teachers eligible to retire by 2003, educators and legislators must take immediate steps to prepare for a shortage in the years to come.

Most of those reaching retirement eligibility are expected to stay, but Gov. Parris N. Glendening predicts the state will need an additional 11,000 teachers over the next two years.

Only about 2,500 teachers graduate from Maryland universities each year, however, and of that number, half have left the state in recent years. Nationally, 2.4 million additional teachers must be found by 2008, the National Education Association says, as more baby boomers who teach reach retirement age.

In Maryland, the governor's brainstorming session at Bowie State University last month was a start.

Most of the suggestions involved higher pay -- an improvement that should be made within reason. But state and local jurisdictions must mind their coffers, too. The strong economy has lavished a string of surpluses on the state, but legislators must be prudent when adding to permanent expenses such as salaries.

The General Assembly approved incentives this year when it passed a measure to provide tax credits to teachers who take graduate-level courses. The legislation also provides stipends and signing bonuses for some teachers.

The most inexpensive, and perhaps most important, suggestion at the Bowie meetingwas to restore a sense of respect for good classroom instructors. State school board member Reginald Dunn suggested that Maryland try to generate enthusiasm among prospective teachers by infusing them with a sense of purpose.

More programs like Future Teachers of America, in which Charles County schools participate, encourage middle school and high school students to consider the profession. Other systems should look into that program.

State legislators must listen to the best ideas and devise creative solutions that will attract bright college graduates to the teaching profession -- and keep them there.

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