Virtually every school system in Maryland can try to fill vacant teaching slots with retired teachers, who would continue receiving their pensions, according to a report approved by the State Board of Education yesterday.
The state's annual teacher staffing report certifies Baltimore and 19 of the state's 23 counties as "areas of projected shortage," meaning they are eligible to take advantage of a bill passed in the last session of the General Assembly encouraging retired teachers to return to the classroom.
Usually, retired teachers aren't permitted to go back to work and collect their pensions at the same time.
"We think this will help, but we really don't know how many retired teachers are eligible," said Lawrence Leak, assistant superintendent for certification and accreditation, who prepared the report. In the past, the annual report was used to determine the academic areas of teacher shortages, making students studying to teach those subjects eligible for Christa McAuliffe teacher education scholarships, which can be worth up to $10,000 a year.
The report again identified those areas -- mainly in science, mathematics, special education and English as a second language -- but also certified the geographic areas facing shortages, allowing the re-employment of retirees.
According to the report's statistics, Maryland's colleges continue to train fewer than half the number of new teachers the state needs every year.
In 1998, the last year for which complete figures are available, state school systems hired more than 6,000 new teachers. A little more than 3,400 were new to the profession. Of those, 1,543 graduated from state schools and the majority were from other states.
"Maryland's colleges and universities have never produced enough teachers to meet state hiring needs," the report said.
According to the report's projections, school systems in the state need 7,290 new teachers this year but will hire 6,496 because of the lack of trained teachers in the academic areas that have shortages. For next year, projections call for 8,808 vacancies and 7,283 hires.
"This is a crisis," said new board member Reginald Dunn of Prince George's County. "We need to respond to it like a crisis, like we would a flood crisis. I don't sense anybody in a hurry."
State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said the state has taken a number of steps to deal with the shortage, including a new HOPE scholarship for prospective teachers that awarded about 500 annual scholarships worth $3,000 each to college seniors and graduate students who agree to teach in the state. The program will expand to all college students next year.
Grasmick also pointed to measures the board approved last month in a proposed $32.7 million package designed to improve teacher recruitment and retention.
Dunn asked that the board put into the report lack of diversity as an area needing the same kind of attention as a lack of science or special education teachers.
Board members rejected Dunn's request but passed a separate motion calling on the superintendent to investigate increasing diversity by attracting more minorities and more men to teaching.