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Lots of Students, Not Enough Teachers

(Page 2 of 2)



"We've redone the entire process," says Karen Cahill, director of recruitment for the Boston Public Schools. "Before, nobody knew if there was a rhyme or reason to whether we called someone back for an interview. Now we have a strong process."

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With an eye to the future, state lawmakers in July approved $20,000 bonuses, over four years, to recruit top teachers. About 40 percent of the state's 70,000 teachers will turn over in the next decade.

Big states, smaller classes

But it's the big states that have already passed class-size reduction legislation, such as California and Texas, that are on the front lines of the drive for new teachers. They've already rejigged the system, purchased the ads, and boosted the incentives. Now, the push is to attract new people.

Since California passed class-size reduction legislation three years ago, the number of teachers teaching on emergency permits has jumped to more than 18,000. Often, these teachers wind up teaching the toughest classes in the poorest schools, with little support.

"About two-thirds of those who began teaching on an emergency permit never got a permanent credential. It's a revolving door and a waste of resources," says Michael McKibbin, who directs an $11 million alternative-certification program for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

"But we found that if we provide them with a solid program that makes sense, if we give them a teacher to serve as a mentor and help them, and not just put them in the coldest classroom in the corner with no supplies, they stay. We save money and help kids," he adds.

Some 6,000 teaching interns have gone through this program in the last three years. Most came into the program from a second career.

This year, California is expanding its program to include those who need even more training and course work to achieve full certification. These "pre-interns" will also be provided training and mentoring as they teach full time in California classrooms.

"We've got architects, lawyers, doctors, and even a missionary," says Joan Sellers, who directs the intern program for the West Contra Costa Unified School District, in Richmond, Calif. "The first question we ask these candidates is why they decided to go back into teaching at this point in their life. Many tell us that they chose their first profession for the money, but found that what you look for at 20 is not so satisfying at 40," she adds.

In Texas, the teacher crunch has set off a frenzy of incentives and alternative-training programs to attract and keep qualified teachers, especially in inner-city districts.

Dallas is offering prospects a $1,500 signing incentive. "I've been here 22 years, and we've never been fully staffed," says Loretta Simon, spokeswoman for the Dallas Independent School District. For the most part, the city has matched the growing student population - 2,500 new students each year - with more teachers and schools. But this year, the district is still about 185 teachers short of its full 9,800-teacher quota, she adds.

In most big cities in Texas, Hispanics make up the majority of the student population, but more than 2 of 3 teachers are Anglo. "The greatest need is in the lower grades," says Jo Nell Drayden, manager of staffing and recruitment for the Houston Independent School District. "When the language in the home is Spanish, then the child grows up speaking Spanish, and they won't get much English until they get to school. We need to be prepared to meet the needs of those kids."

In addition to raising teacher salaries, Houston has created what Mrs. Drayden calls a "grow-your-own" teacher-certification program to bring educated Hispanics and other professionals into the teaching profession.

More than 26 Texas school districts have set up alternative-teacher-training programs that are bringing more minorities and mid-career professionals into teaching.

"These are not quick-and-dirty programs; data show that these people are as good as or better than people coming through traditional programs," says Feistritzer, who conducts annual surveys of alternative-certification programs.

In both California and Texas, officials hope that this new strategy will provide a steady source of qualified new teachers. "We see these people as naturals to be teachers if we provide them the career ladder to get there," says Mr. McKibbin.

* Staff writers Scott Baldauf, Marjorie Coeyman, and Mark Clayton contributed to this report. Send e-mail comments to: chaddockg@csps.com