Since Americans consistently say improving public education is a top priority, why don't they just pay teachers more?
That's the question facing many communities desperately searching for new teachers. In New Mexico, teacher vacancies are up 68 percent, and low pay is the chief reason teachers give for leaving their jobs. In Atlanta, postal workers are being asked if they want to teach, and in New York, schools are wooing teachers from overseas (see story, page 1).
Sadly, this national problem has prompted a number of school districts to drop certification standards, mostly with the caveat that new teachers obtain certification within a specified time period. Innovations such as online recruiting are fine. So are short term incentives such as tax exemptions, signing bonuses, or tuition reimbursement. But people who want to move from other professions to take up teaching ought to be certified.
In fact, despite a teacher shortage, the public school system in Washington, fired 531 teachers (about 10 percent of the total number of instructors) recently for failing to obtain certification, prove their educational background, or hold a current teaching license. That's part of the accountability school systems need.
Citizens must recognize that the shortage ultimately is not in the number of teachers. It's in the willingness of taxpapers to pay teachers enough to attract people with the right qualities and experience. With a baby boom in school enrollment and low unemployment, communities need to attract and keep good teachers.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor