Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Darryl L. Williams talks about the importance of mentors for new teachers.
Maryland’s largest school systems launched an aggressive campaign this year to hire at least 6,000 new teachers by the fall. District officials in Baltimore County and elsewhere made recruiting trips across the country, offered incentives and conducted job fairs.
But as enrollments grow, baby boomers retire and a younger generation eschews teaching, school systems are finding it tougher and tougher to fill vacancies. And just as difficult as finding teachers is persuading them to stay.
“Teaching has become a revolving door, not a career,” said William “Brit” Kirwan, who heads a commission recommending the state adopt a series of policy changes. If past trends hold true, he said, nearly half of all teachers entering their second year of teaching in Maryland will leave the profession by next fall.
The constant churn can only be reduced, the so-called Kirwan Commission says, by elevating the profession so that teaching is considered as competitive, prestigious and well paid as other professions such as architecture or accounting.
The Kirwan Commission’s recommendations for recruitment and retention can read as counterintuitive - make teaching more selective to attract more and better candidates - and are expensive. They are estimated to cost $1 billion more than is spent today. But proponents point to the model elsewhere and say costs could be offset by savings from lower turnover.
If the legislature adopts the commission’s sweeping changes next year, getting into a school of education would be more difficult, the classes and practical experience more exacting and the tests for a license more rigorous.
“We would be the first state in the nation to introduce such a system, a system that is commonplace in all the high-performing systems around the world,” said Kirwan, who is the former chancellor of the state’s public university system.
Kirwan’s recommendations, however, likely require state or local tax increases. Gov. Larry Hogan has given lukewarm support for the Kirwan recommendations and has criticized the commission’s failure to find a funding source.
“We all agree on the need to recruit and retain the best teachers, and $75 million of the funding the governor released in May goes to help counties enhance teacher salaries,” spokesman Mike Ricci said in a statement. "This is a great example of how the commission’s work is well-meaning but hampered by the lack of a long-term funding plan.”
This year, district officials in Baltimore County and elsewhere found they had to hire more than 10 percent of their workforce. Baltimore and Montgomery counties will each add a little more than 1,000 new teachers, Prince George’s 2,000, Anne Arundel about 800 and Baltimore City about 700.
Qualified teachers get snapped up quickly. Taylor O’Conner graduated from county schools and Towson University before getting a master’s degree in education in Brooklyn, New York. When she returned to visit the Baltimore County elementary school where she interned as an undergraduate, administrators offered her a job almost immediately. She took it.
Edith Callahan, by comparison, arrives with experience. She transferred from Asheville, N.C., with 13 years of experience and advanced degrees, including an expertise in physical therapy. She was hired at Baltimore County’s Overlea High School to be a health sciences teacher and athletic trainer and will make $80,000, or $30,000 more than at her last position. A Maryland native, she came back because her mother needed more support.
“I hope to help minority kids,” she said. Despite the fact that a relative was shot in the city, she returned. “I decided to make this a positive thing and give back to the community.”
Teacher shortages are common across the country, but Maryland is unique among surrounding states because its schools of education don’t produce enough graduates to fill the teacher vacancies each year. An “import” state, Maryland must attract about half its new teachers from out-of-state, many from Pennsylvania.
In addition, the number of undergraduates majoring in education in Maryland is falling.
With a shortage of teachers, the Kirwan Commission is calling for elevating the prestige of the teaching profession by making it more competitive to enter the profession and more difficult to pass the tests for a teaching certificate.
“We must significantly upgrade the profession, with more rigorous teacher preparation programs, higher certifications standards, and a merit-based career ladder with compensation benchmarked against other professions requiring similar levels of education,” Kirwan said in an email.
The commission spent two years studying the highest-performing school districts in the world. Marc Tucker, president and CEO emeritus of the National Center on Education and Economy, has picked apart data from schools worldwide to learn what works and can be adapted to improve American schools.
He argues that teachers must be treated the way many other professionals are who start in a career at the bottom. As they gain experience and expertise they rise through the ranks. There are financial rewards and a career ladder that recognizes their experience. In teaching, he said, a person who puts in extra time may never get rewarded financially or recognized.
While the recommendation suggests a counterintuitive approach to dealing with a shortage, the Kirwan Commission hopes that higher pay and increased recognition would attract applicants who now choose prestigious and lucrative professions.
In Maryland, teachers spend about 80 percent of their time in front of students, while in top-performing systems, such as Finland, the percentage is much less, between 50 and 60 percent.
The Kirwan Commission would hire more teachers so that when they are not in front of students, they can work collaboratively creating lesson plans, working individually with struggling students and getting advice and mentoring from experienced teachers.
Under the recommendations, Maryland teachers would earn more too, with increases that would bring the starting salary to $60,000 a year within three years. The average current starting salary in the state is about $45,000. Teacher pay would increase based on merit, with the top teachers rising to become master teachers and professor master teachers. With this pathway, the best teachers would have incentive to stay in the classroom rather than move into administration to get more money.
Those changes would be expensive, costing $1 billion more than what is spent today, Tucker said, but those costs could be offset by savings from lower teacher turnover, meaning less money spent on recruiting, training and mentoring new staff.
“We are incurring an enormous cost in turnover,” Tucker said. “Think about what is actually happening. You are constantly restaffing your schools with teachers who are not experts."
The Maryland State Education Association, representing the majority of the state’s teaching workforce, supports most of the new Kirwan initiatives on teaching.
Cheryl Bost, MSEA president, said teachers are leaving the profession because they are overwhelmed and feel they have little autonomy. An English teacher may be told which book to teach, what skills to focus on and when to give a test, she said, leaving less room for teachers to decide what is best for their students.
Anne Arundel and Baltimore County are beginning to add teaching positions to try to get back to the ratios they had years ago. This year Baltimore County is adding 208 positions in schools, including teachers, counselors, psychologists and nurses.
Baltimore County’s teacher turnover was significant this year. Of the 801 teachers who left the county by July 1, 643 left the system before they could retire.
Just two months into his job, Superintendent Darryl L. Williams said he already believes recruiting and retention will be a focus of his work.
Teaching “can be very challenging. There is a lot of pressure on our staff. I am looking at what we can do to build the capacity of our teachers. ... It is critical that we have the right people and we can keep them.”
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In Carroll and Howard counties, turnover was far less, in part because the school systems are smaller. Carroll hired only 103 new teachers, for a teacher retention rate of 95 percent. Howard needed to hire about 350 new teachers.