Maryland's perennial teacher shortage may be easing for the first time in several years, a result of increased emphasis on producing better-trained teachers from the state's colleges and universities and a steady enrollment trend, according to state officials.
And state educators predict the trend will continue because of a worsening economy.
"Guess what one of the recession-proof professions is?" said Donna L. Wiseman, dean of the College of Education at the University of Maryland, College Park. "Teacher shortages always shrink during recessions."
Despite the improvement, schools remain in need of special education, math, chemistry, physics and foreign language teachers. The state has designated those as shortage areas in its report released Friday.
FOR THE RECORD - In an article in Tuesday's editions, the length of time some colleges and universities require their students to spend in the classroom as part of their teacher training was incorrectly reported. It is 100 days.
THE BALTIMORE SUN REGRETS THE ERROR
Colleges and public schools have been working hard recently to produce more math and science teachers, said John Smeallie, acting deputy superintendent of the Maryland State Department of Education. Wiseman said College Park produced about 25 math and science teachers last year; that is expected to nearly double this year.
Still, two years ago, College Park produced one physics teacher and last year only two.
Wiseman noted that science teachers must complete all of the courses in their major as well as a full set of education courses. "That is a lot of work to do," she said, given they will earn significantly less than their peers who go work in a lab or do research.
While the teaching vacancies are fewer, the number of new hires has also gone down in the past several years. Across the state, Maryland hired more than 8,046 teachers in the 2005-06 school year, but by last school year hires had dropped to 7,249. In the current school year, the state projects, schools will hire 5,918 teachers.
Maryland has rarely been able to produce enough new teachers each year to fill its vacancies, so many school systems recruit candidates from around the country and overseas.
Another issue is retention. Nationally, novice teachers, unprepared for the challenge, leave in droves after several years in the classroom. But Smeallie said several universities and colleges have put into place programs that require students to spend at least 100 hours in the classroom getting job training before they get a diploma.
"We are gratified to see there is a level of increased retention," said Smeallie.
In addition, Loyola College and the College of Notre Dame have created new schools of education that will increase the number of undergraduates majoring in education and the number of graduates with specialized training.
Loyola graduated 358 teachers last year and is beginning an urban education program "to really grapple with the challenges of promoting the academic development and personal achievement of all kids," said Peter Murrell, dean of the school of education.
BY THE NUMBERS
A teacher shortage appears to be easing, especially for those qualified in certain high-demand subjects.
* The number of new hires expected in the current school year has dropped to 5,918 from 7,249. That is the third decline in as many years.
* Of the 7, 249 teachers hired last year by Maryland public schools, 2,783 were from colleges in the state, compared with 4,466 from elsewhere, a slight decrease from the year before in teachers from out of state.
* About 40 math and science teachers are expected to complete undergraduate or graduate degrees at the University of Maryland, College Park, compared with 25 in 2007-2008.