ON Oct. 26, I asked the State Board of Education to endorse a three-pronged proposal to help provide Maryland's classrooms with qualified teachers as we enter the next century. The proposal is designed to help school systems compete with private businesses for college graduates in the face of a projected teacher shortage in the next decade.
We must attract our best and brightest candidates to this critical and potentially most satisfying career, and encourage teachers to improve their skills as they mature in the profession.
Closing the gap
This projected shortage is partly the result of increasing enrollments and the retirement of baby-boom teachers. Maryland schools opened in the fall of 1997 with 5,700 additional teachers. In the fall of 2001, nearly 11,000 additional teachers will be needed, while Maryland colleges will continue to produce 2,500 teachers annually, as they do now.
The gap will be particularly noticeable in high schools, where enrollment increases will continue for many years to come, and where our next battle for quality public education will be staged as we mandate new rigorous performance standards for
Local superintendents tell me they feel the crunch now. Some of them are having difficulty finding teachers for subjects that were easily filled a few years ago.
Fewer college graduates are choosing teaching as a career as more lucrative careers in science, technology and business beckon. But our students won't be able to compete in the international marketplace if they don't have qualified teachers.
On a visit to Taiwan several years ago, I learned that teachers there are recruited from among the top 5 percent of university graduates and are compensated accordingly. Also, teachers there pay no personal-income tax.
It's time we accorded our teachers the same respect. It's time we delivered on our promise of more training and more compensation -- both of which must accompany the accountability we now demand.
Tuition tax credits for graduate-level courses teachers need to maintain their certification should encourage teachers to further their professional development beyond that which is required for recertification.
A 10-percent bonus every year for 10 years for those obtaining national certification would certainly make completing the academically rigorous process more attractive. And a $5,000 per year signing bonus over three years for for graduates in the top 10 percent of their class might make teaching more appealing to those considering other careers.
If enhancing teacher quality is a challenge, retaining quality teachers is no less a task. Studies show that 30 percent of new teachers leave the profession within two years, and 40 to 50 percent within seven years.
More distressing is that the same studies show the most academically talented teachers leave in the greatest numbers. Funding mentoring programs, like the highly successful one established in Baltimore County public schools, will help acclimate new teachers to the school environment and help them handle the rigors of an admittedly difficult job.
At the threshold of a new century, we are in no position to falter in our quest for improving school quality. As staffing and enrollment continue along their divergent paths, it is clear we must implement a host of innovative recruitment and retention strategies.
Nancy S. Grasmick is state superintendent of schools.
Pub Date: 11/11/98