Teacher shortage critical as schools begin new year

Incentives fail to help Md. reach recruitment goals

Many instructors not certified

August 28, 2002|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

Despite signing bonuses, low-interest mortgages and other incentives, Maryland's teacher shortage remains critical, and thousands of teachers still lack full state certification or college training in the subjects they teach, state officials said yesterday.

In releasing their annual staffing report, the officials again listed all 24 school districts as "projected shortage areas" as schools open for the year and said serious teacher shortages will remain next year in math, foreign languages, special education, the sciences and other fields.

Incentives, ranging from $1,000 signing bonuses to department store discounts, "haven't paid off enough," said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick at yesterday's state Board of Education meeting in Baltimore.

Grasmick pointed out that the two Maryland districts with the lowest-performing schools - Baltimore and Prince George's County - have been forced to hire the largest number of provisional teachers, those who haven't met the requirements for licensure. Just under a quarter of the city's 6,000 teachers and 19 percent of Prince George's 7,750 teachers last year were provisional, according to yesterday's report. The state average was 9.7 percent.

The report comes on the heels of another study last week from Education Trust, a national children's advocacy group, that said 22 percent of Maryland middle and high school teachers never studied in college the subjects they teach. Many of these "out-of-field" instructors are trained as elementary teachers but assigned as math, science or history teachers in middle school; others are middle school teachers who lack the specialized training to work with younger students.

Grasmick and Lawrence E. Leak, in charge of certification for the state, said the hardest teachers to find are those just beginning their careers. The causes are several, they said:

Maryland's beginning salaries, generally in the low $30,000 range, can't compete with those in better-paying states such as Connecticut, or in better-paying cities such as New York, which pays starting teachers $39,000. Gov. Parris N. Glendening's "teacher salary challenge program" provided a 10 percent raise for most teachers over two years, but state officials said the inducement wasn't sufficient to ease shortages.

Maryland always has been a teacher-importing state; its 22 teacher colleges turn out a minority of the state's new teachers, just 23 percent. "We used to rely on Pennsylvania," said Grasmick, "but now all states have similar shortages. Everybody's in the same boat."

Only three school districts and a consortium of Eastern Shore districts offer routes to teacher certification that differ from those of the traditional teacher education college. Alternative programs make it easier for liberal arts graduates and career-changers to enter the field, but unions and teacher colleges have resisted these programs, and few teachers have entered classrooms with alternative certificates. "We need to get our districts to cast wider nets," said Grasmick.

Teaching is no longer regarded as a lifelong career, and Maryland's brightest high school students aren't encouraged to enter the field. "Teaching is seen as ... . more of a bridge to other occupations," said Caroline Gifford, the state board's student member from Wilde Lake High School in Columbia. Nor, said Gifford, is teaching "presented" in high school as a worthwhile profession for high-achieving students, "and that doesn't make any sense to me."

Grasmick proposed two changes that would ease the problem of teachers assigned out of the fields in which they are trained. Regulations that allow districts to assign such teachers ought to be repealed immediately, she said, and Maryland needs to certify middle school teachers by subject matter.

Maryland elementary teachers are certified to teach also in middle school, typically grades six, seven and eight. Since elementary teachers are required to be generalists, they often find themselves over their heads when they're assigned to teach a core subject in middle school, Grasmick said.

The Education Trust report, All Talk, No Action, said the nation has made no progress in reducing out-of-field teaching since 1993-1994, with the biggest increases in misassigned teachers occurring in high-poverty districts and those with greater numbers of minority students. Although the report did not provide statistics for individual districts, it said 35 percent of Maryland's secondary teachers in high-minority schools are teaching outside their fields.

"The equity implications are simply staggering," said Kati Haycock, director of the Washington-based trust.

Teacher preparation is crucial because the new No Child Left Behind Act requires "highly qualified" teachers in every school receiving federal aid.

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