Wider Doors for Teaching

Here's good news: There's a resurgence of interest in the teaching profession. The country's economic softening, coupled with pay increases for teachers and aggressive recruitment by states, has led more people to pick up the chalk.

Some experts speculate that the resurgence also flows from a desire among those with established careers to mentor others. Programs that offer "alternative" training for new teachers have proliferated in the past 20 years - from eight to 122, according to the National Center for Education Information in Washington. In 2002, some 25,000 teachers were put into classrooms through such programs.

Still the attrition rate for new teachers remains high. The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future says nearly one third of new teachers leave the classroom after three years, and half after five years. And a shortage still exists in math and science, as well as special education. Getting enough teachers to rural and inner-city classrooms also remains a problem - 40 percent of all public schools are in rural places.

Inner-city schools face the problem of looming teacher retirement. In metropolitan Denver, for instance, 17 percent of teachers will be eligible to retire in five years or less. Nationwide, 2.2 million new teachers will be needed to offset those retiring within the next decade.

A new federal education law mandates "highly qualified" teachers in every public school by the end of the 2005-06 school year. States have much work to do to stabilize and then build an effective teaching force.

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