Remedy eyed for teacher shortage

More scholarships for those who enter field top legislative wish list

November 05, 2006|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,[Sun Reporter]

When the Board of Education convenes Wednesday, members are expected to vote on a legislative wish list that tackles a national problem: the teacher shortage.

A statement that supports substantial scholarship programs for students who enter the teaching profession -- and commit to teaching in Maryland -- is one of the newer additions to the Carroll County school board's legislative positions for the 2007 General Assembly.

"Our state universities do not graduate enough teachers to fill all the vacancies there are each year," said Jimmie Saylor, director of human resources for county schools. "It really is critical to the state to increase the number of candidates they're graduating."

A recent report on the capacity of state teacher programs led Stephen Guthrie, assistant superintendent of administration, to add "substantial scholarship and tuition remission programs" to the list of initiatives the board would support.

The report, released by the Maryland Higher Education Commission in March, estimated that 7,500 new teachers would be needed for the 2006-2007 school year. Yet Maryland's teaching programs only produced a little more than one-third of that -- despite a number of programs' ability to take in nearly 2,700 more students.

"What we lack are the students," Guthrie said. That fact suggests that existing grants and financial assistance are not sufficiently encouraging students to consider education, he added.

The latest annual staffing report from the State Department of Education also noted that nearly half the teachers hired in the fall of 2005 had experience. Most newly hired teachers with no experience came from out of state.

In Carroll and other counties, Guthrie said, vacancies are often filled with experienced teachers. Recruiters also turn to Pennsylvania to make up for in-state shortages, Saylor said.

A number of scholarships and tuition assistance has existed for a while, Guthrie added, but more programs in that vein could help alleviate the state's shortage -- and produce replacements for retiring teachers.

The Higher Education Commission provides financial aid to those individuals who study teaching in Maryland and agree to teach in state for a certain length.

The Sharon Christa McAuliffe Memorial Teacher Education Award, for example, goes to students who plan to become teachers in critical shortage areas.

Such areas include math, science, special and early childhood education, said Andrea Mansfield, the commission's acting assistant secretary for finance policy.

The commission selects about 60 individuals to receive the award each year, Mansfield said. Recipients must teach one year in Maryland for every year that they received the award, she said.

While current teaching scholarships have proven to help with retention, Mansfield added, "a scholarship isn't going to fix everything."

Salary, retirement issues and a support network in those first few years of teaching also must factor in, she said.

Board member Patricia Gadberry, a former special education teacher, agreed.

In addition to the financial assistance that may encourage people to consider teaching, school districts should strive to make the profession an attractive one to enter, Gadberry said.

"We need to pay our teachers well and treat them well and respect them," she said.

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