*************************************************** From the New York Times, January 10, 2000, p. 19 [East Coast, Late Edition] ***************************************************
The Teacher Crisis [Op-Ed]
By Bob Herbert
It used to be fairly easy to get large numbers of decent teachers for the public schools.
In the 1930's and 40's, young people shaped by the harsh lessons of the Depression were happy to have a steady job that was respectable, even though the pay was low. In the 1950's and 60's, when the baby boomers flooded the schools, women moved en masse into teaching. Few other professional options existed. Women who wanted a career became, for the most part, teachers or nurses.
In the late 60's and early 70's, a wave of men went into teaching. These were young, draft-eligible guys anxious for a deferment that would keep them out of Vietnam. Only one out of five remained in the profession for the long haul, but that 20 percent was a significant boost to the ranks of teachers nationwide.
Those more or less natural sources of teachers have long since vanished, and the U.S. now finds itself in the midst of a teacher shortage that is threatening the viability of school systems from coast to coast.
"This shortage of competent teachers is one of the most glaring problems we face right now," said Senator Charles Schumer, who plans to introduce federal legislation that is designed to encourage more young people to become teachers.
"We've entered a whole new type of economy in which ideas are the generators of wealth, of jobs and growth," Mr. Schumer said in an interview last week. "But the No. 1 storm cloud on the horizon is the lack of a young, high-quality, dedicated group of professionals to teach our children."
Referring to the teacher shortage in a speech yesterday, the U.S. secretary of education, Richard Riley, said, "It's gotten so bad that some schools have been forced to put any warm body in front of a classroom."
The shortage will only grow worse over the next decade as tens of thousands of teachers reach retirement age. It is estimated that two million new teachers will have to be hired during that period. But how many first-rate teachers can you reasonably be expected to recruit when the average starting salary is roughly $25,000 a year?
Senator Schumer noted that the greatest need for new teachers is in the areas of math and science. School systems find it particularly difficult to recruit competent men and women in those disciplines because they can so easily command much higher salaries and much better working conditions elsewhere.
"The shortages in math and science are desperate in all but the wealthiest districts," said Mr. Schumer. "So of the 40,000 math or science teachers we needed last year, only 3,000 had the necessary math or science training."
The shortage over all is so acute that many school districts are hiring just about anybody with a college degree. "They get into a classroom," said Mr. Schumer, "and they don't know what to do. They don't know how to teach."
A number of states and local districts are offering enticements to young people to go into teaching. Gov. George Pataki of New York has put together a tuition subsidy plan, and Gov. Gray Davis of California is proposing, among other things, cash bonuses and low-interest home loans.
Senator Schumer's proposal, which he is calling "The Marshall Plan for Public School Teachers," would offer a variety of federal incentives to potential teachers across the country. The key elements are as follows:
* All undergraduate student loans would be forgiven for anyone who becomes certified and teaches for five years.
* The federal government would provide a $5,000-a-year salary supplement for teachers who pass a special test in math and science given by the National Academy of Sciences.
* The federal government would cover 75 percent of the cost of a cadre of master teachers who would serve as trainers and mentors for new teachers.
* Federal employees who retire and go into teaching would be permitted to begin receiving their pensions as soon as they left their federal post. Mr. Schumer said he would encourage local governments and private businesses to adopt a similar policy.
The senator said his program would cost about $15 billion over 10 years.
"People are beginning to see education as an important issue," he said, "but they don't yet see this teacher shortage as a real crisis. It is."
Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618) 453-4244 Phone: (618) 453-4241 (office) (618) 457-8903 (home) E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org