US Is Facing a Teacher Shortage
Better pay, more say in decisions, and recognition are `carrots' being offered by school systems. PUBLIC EDUCATION
NOT enough students - particularly in math and the sciences - are choosing public school teaching as a career. Enrollments in college schools of education have been increasing over the last five years, and some retirees in other fields are now turning to teaching as a second career. But gains are unlikely to meet coming needs. It is widely estimated that as many as half of the nation's 2.5 million teachers may retire or shift jobs over the next few years.Skip to next paragraph
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That teachers themselves are among the sharpest critics of the public schools does not help. ``I don't know of one teacher who is encouraging his or her own children to go into teaching,'' says David Imig, executive director of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
Increased violence and drug use among students and stepped-up public demands for greater accountability have admittedly made the already-tough job of teaching far tougher.
Even so, several strong currents of change are under way that could make a positive difference in recruiting and holding good teachers.
While still far from what most teachers feel they deserve, pay has improved. Salaries for beginning teachers have increased over the last few years to an average of $19,548 last year. ``That's taken some of the edge off [the task] of finding new teachers,'' says Howard Nelson, a research specialist with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The average public school teacher in the US last year earned $29,629.
A stronger voice for teachers in school decisionmaking.
Forty states have drafted regulations to allow more school-based management in everything from curriculum development and textbook choice to class size and staffing. Noting that teachers are tired of being treated ``like very tall children,'' says Mary Futrell, outgoing president of the National Education Association (NEA), the shift should improve both teacher morale and the quality of education. ``Research shows that the best schools are those where decisions are made close to the schools,'' she says.
Recent contracts between AFT affiliates and school boards in Dade County, Fla., and Rochester, N.Y., spell out several such decisionmaking rights for teachers in the process of sealing down significant salary increases. Both systems have charted clearer career paths for teachers. Newly hired teachers will start as interns, working their way up under the guidance of more experienced (and better paid) veterans.
More recognition of jobs well done.
One of the most widely supported recent proposals is an effort nurtured by the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy to develop the first national system for certifying teachers.
This recognition of top performers or master teachers, who may serve as catalysts for other school structuring changes, is a voluntary add-on to required state licensing. It would likely bring extra pay and serve to inspire other teachers and boost the profession's general image.
Those with a college degree and three years' teaching experience could begin to seek the accolade in 1993. Although details are yet to be worked out, candidates would be judged on teaching effectiveness and probably would be required to pass a written exam.
The process is widely expected to force changes in the content of college courses for education majors. Mr. Imig agrees that colleges will want to claim that a high percentage of their students are nationally certified; but he contends the bulk of the effort will fall much more strongly on the post-college period of in-service training. ``The candidates' first priority in that three years is likely to be getting ready for the exam,'' he insists.