Teacher shortfall

May 17, 2006

The federal No Child Left Behind law requires a highly qualified teacher in every core subject classroom, such as math, English and history, by the end of the current school year. But as the Department of Education announced last week, no state has met that mandate. While most have made substantial progress, nine states and the District of Columbia face possible sanctions, including the loss of federal funds, for not improving sufficiently. Given the intense competition for qualified teachers, taking away federal money would seem to do more harm than good. Maryland, whose compliance efforts are still under review, may not be under immediate threat of sanctions, but it should certainly step up efforts to produce more homegrown teachers and to lure more teachers from other jurisdictions.

Highly qualified teachers generally have at least an undergraduate degree, a state license and demonstrated competence in every subject they teach. The Department of Education has asked Maryland for additional data, but state education officials are confident that they have improved on the 75 percent compliance rate during the 2004-2005 school year. They are also convinced that federal officials will take into account some of the state's strict certification requirements, including at least 100 days of student teaching. Such high professional standards seek to ensure quality instruction but also make it more likely that Maryland will need at least another year to come into compliance with NCLB.

Federal officials are likely to give most states at least that much more time, but probably not much longer, to comply. Maryland has been offering stipends to attract teachers with high grade-point averages from other states. Last year, it also gave about $5.2 million in extra pay to 2,600 teachers across the state to teach in especially low-performing schools. In addition to statewide incentives, some individual school districts offer signing bonuses and other inducements to relieve teacher shortages.

These lures may allow the state to get past the federal deadline, but even more long-term strategies are required. Maryland needs about 6,600 teachers a year, while producing only about 2,550. That shortfall needs to be addressed in a variety of ways, including re-examining teacher education, attracting more people from other professions and probably offering more financial incentives. For the sake of NCLB as well as the needs of its students, Maryland will simply have to produce more teachers.

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