The state school board is so desperate to find new teachers that yesterday it proposed paying the college tuition of prospective teachers and guaranteeing them jobs upon graduation.
The proposal would be Maryland's boldest step to deal with an impending teacher shortage, and it came as part of the board's $32.7 million request to the governor and General Assembly to help recruit and retain more teachers for Maryland.
"We're in a crisis, and I think we need to operate in that context," said board member Reginald Dunn. "I think that if we tell students that we'll pay your entire tuition if you stay in school and agree to become a teacher, then we're guaranteed of getting lots of teachers."
While the tuition proposal is in the early stages, board members told state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick to redirect at least several million dollars of her $32.7 million teacher recruitment package to the idea.
If approved by the governor and the legislature, the proposal would extend beyond the HOPE scholarship programs for aspiring teachers, which reimburse college students up to $3,000 of their annual tuition.
As in those programs, recipients of the full tuition reimbursement would be required to teach for a certain number of years in Maryland schools or pay back the money. Unlike those programs, the idea proposed by the board would guarantee teaching jobs to the recipients, most likely in their home school systems.
"The HOPE scholarship is a nice idea, but for kids without money and parents without money, it's not enough," said board Vice President Edward Andrews. "If you want to market teaching, give a free education and a guarantee of a job."
School board support
State officials said the idea also would require local school boards to sign on, because they -- and not the state board -- would hire teachers and are the only bodies that could guarantee jobs upon graduation.
But board members said Maryland's teacher shortage is so desperate that dramatic steps are required.
"The kind of program we're talking about is a sea change in this state," said board member Raymond V. "Buzz" Bartlett.
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 -- possibly more if the state increases its efforts to reduce class sizes.
But only 2,500 new teachers graduate each year from the state's colleges and universities, and half either take out-of-state jobs or decide not to teach.
The growing demand stems primarily from rising student enrollments, and an expected wave of retirements.
The state and local school systems have put in place various initiatives to increase the pool of teachers, including offering signing bonuses and changing Maryland's pension rules to allow retired teachers to return to the classroom without losing retirement benefits. In October, educators and politicians from across the state met at Bowie State University to devise ways to attract and retain teachers, and most of the ideas approved by the state board yesterday stem from that meeting.
The biggest part of the budget request -- $28.2 million -- would go to expand mentoring programs beyond Baltimore, Baltimore County and Prince George's County.
Some of that money would also pay to expand university programs which train new teachers in school settings, and also fund incentives for new teachers in critical subject areas.
The package also includes $4 million to modernize the state's antiquated certification system and $500,000 to market teaching as a profession to middle and high school students.
Despite the impending teacher shortage, state officials remain adamant that they do not want to lower standards for would-be teachers.
Maryland's required score to pass the certification exam is among the highest in the country.
Keeping scores high
Yesterday, the state board voted again to set high passing scores for a new pair of exams about to be required for new elementary school teachers to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in math, social studies, science and language arts.
On one of the exams, the passing score required for Maryland teachers will be the highest among the seven states using the tests.
The board yesterday also began grappling with another personnel shortage facing school systems across the nation: principals.
In a survey of 21 local superintendents released yesterday by the Maryland Association of Secondary School Principals, 18 reported a shortage of qualified applicants for middle-and high school assistant principal and principal positions.
Many principals and would-be principals are put off by the increasing demands of the jobs, according to focus groups conducted by the state principals association, including pressure from parents and superintendents growing time demands and a relatively small boost in pay.
"The bottom line of their frustrations is those things that pull them away from helping kids," said Jacqueline H. Pipkin, a Baltimore County principal on special assignment and one of the authors of the principals group's report.
After the board's discussion on the principal shortage, Grasmick announced the appointment of a task force to come up with recommendations for recruiting more principals and making the job more appealing.
The co-chairmen of the task force will be Howard County schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey and Donald Barron, principal of Montgomery Village Middle School in Montgomery County and president of the state group.