Report urges premium pay for math, science teachers

October 29, 2002|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

Maryland's school systems should pay a premium to math and science teachers to combat a shortage of qualified instructors in those fields, says a report released yesterday by a Baltimore-based think tank.

The Calvert Institute for Policy Research says the only way to keep the shortages from worsening is to pay substantially more to those in specialized fields. Otherwise, it says, they might find better-paying jobs in the private sector, where skills, not seniority, often determine compensation.

"In my opinion, it really is a crisis. And unfortunately, it's been all too quiet on the public scene," said Donald N. Langenberg, chancellor emeritus of the University System of Maryland, who spoke yesterday on a panel discussing the report. He is a professor of physics and engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park.

The report suggests that one of the major obstacles to paying more to specialized teachers is the power of teachers unions in Maryland. Twenty-one of the state's 24 school systems have pay scales that compensate teachers based largely on years of experience, regardless of what they teach.

Langenberg suggested taking major steps to find the money to increase pay for math and science teachers, which he says could cost $100 billion a year nationwide and would require new taxes. "This is not a problem that we can address with bingo games and bake sales," he said.

Washington College President John S. Toll, Langenberg's predecessor and another member of yesterday's panel, said, "On the whole, we've got to be more competitive with industry."

Patricia A. Foerster, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association, said teaching is a profession that requires teamwork. Paying first-grade teachers less than high school chemistry teachers wouldn't work, she said.

"You'd also have a situation where you could have a revolving door: You pay science teachers more, so no one wants to be a social studies teacher. Then you have [a shortage of social studies teachers]. It keeps going around and around," she said. "It's more likely to do more harm."

There is little new information in the report, which includes excerpts from recent studies of the topic, including information about the large number of students being taught by teachers who don't have even a minor in their teaching field.

The Calvert Institute began as an offshoot of the conservative Heritage Foundation but in recent months has tried to become less partisan, said George W. Liebmann, its executive director.

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