By andrei Blakely
ANNAPOLIS – Maryland is expected to be short a record 10,351 teachers – 1,600 more than this year – at the start of school next year, according to a report released Tuesday by the State Department of Education.
To combat the problem, the annual teacher staffing report outlined a vigorous strategy to provide financial scholarships, tax breaks and home ownership opportunities to prospective teachers, as well as plans to help teachers come out of retirement.
“It is not a situation that is going to resolve itself overnight,” said Sandy Shepherd, a school specialist in the Education Department’s community outreach office. “It takes four years to train new teachers. Increasing salaries is one way we can get college students to consider teaching as a profession.”
Students suffer when schools can’t find the most qualified teachers to fill their openings, said Kathleen Lyons, spokeswoman for the National Education Association.
“States relax the requirements to get any warm body in the classroom,” she said. “It’s not good news when we’re trying to raise education standards.”
Neil H. Greenberger, spokesman for the Maryland Education Department, said the school system is attempting to hire the best teachers available, rather than just any teacher.
“Most of the systems have come pretty close to hiring the teachers they need to hire,” he said. “It is something that is done on a system-by-system basis in a supply-and-demand market, but there are programs trying to hire quality.”
The greatest need shown in the report, presented at the board’s monthly meeting Tuesday, is for 4,012 elementary schoolteachers, while special education classrooms will need 1,079 teachers.
The Distinguished Scholar Teacher Education Program, the Christa McAuliffe Memorial Teacher Education Award, and Maryland HOPE teacher scholarships are designed to give financial assistance to students who study to become teachers.
But some education officials predict the state’s agenda will fail to create large improvements.
“These are short-term incentives,” said Pat Foerster, president of the Maryland Teacher’s Association.
Maryland has turned to surrounding states to solve past teacher shortages, Shepard said. For example, in Pennsylvania there are more teaching candidates graduating from college then there are positions, which gives Maryland the opportunity to recruit, she said.
“Until we get teacher salaries to the point where they are competitive with the general economic opportunities of other professions we are not going to get young people interested in the teaching profession,” said Foerster. “There is also a great need to take a look at the working conditions in schools.”
The teacher vacancy situation becomes more complicated because some teachers who are in one location are not always willing to accept employment in other jurisdictions, Shepherd said.
The number of teaching vacancies in schools statewide has been increasing since 1990-1991. The number of vacancies jumped by 4,637 positions during the 90s. The current number of vacancies is mirrored by an increase in enrollment, which is expected to reach 837,840 next year. The teacher staffing report is given annually by the State Department of Education’s Divisions of Certification and Accreditation and Planning, Results, and Information Management in consultation with the Maryland Higher Education Commission. -30- CNS-09-26-00