- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2001

As the Senate inches toward closure on the education overhaul bill set in motion by President Bushs proposals,
Republicans and Democrats have sidestepped a critical issue getting more and better teachers into the classroom.
The debates over testing, vouchers and state vs. federal control have overshadowed the need to remedy the national teacher shortage and to improve teacher quality. Unless both sides of this dilemma get immediate attention, the likely payoff for other educational reforms in the bill will be greatly diminished.
The National Center for Education Statistics predicts that by 2010 public schools will need at least 2 million new teachers.
The current teaching force is graying, school enrollments are burgeoning, and few people are in the traditional pipeline that leads to teaching. Shortages already loom in certain geographic areas, in poor, high-minority urban schools, and in such subjects as mathematics, science, bilingual education and special education.
As a result, school districts are putting more emergency-licensed teachers in the classroom, minimally prepared individuals are allowed to teach through alternative certification, and teachers are asked to teach subjects "out of field."
These stopgap measures can not solve the teacher shortage without severely compromising quality. But other resourceful efforts, if replicated and funded sufficiently, could markedly improve both quality and quantity of teachers.
These resourceful efforts are tapping nontraditional recruits paraprofessionals, retired military personnel, returned Peace Corps volunteers, and career-switchers to teach particularly in our urban schools. Support comes from a variety of sources large foundations, corporations, the federal government, states, school districts and other entities. And, for the most part, these investments are paying off. The nearly 100 foundation-funded projects scattered across the country are especially instructive. They have developed and tested models that others can adapt to serve a wide range of populations. And they show that at least three ingredients appear necessary for success.
First is close collaboration between a school district and a university or college teacher-education program. The school district spells out what kind of teacher it needs (minority special education teachers, for instance, or bilingual science teachers) and works with the project to identify a likely source of recruits.
Often, the school districts own paraprofessionals, secretaries, cafeteria workers, and others are recruited. The university or college program helps train these recruits to teach.
Second is tailoring a course of study to the new recruits needs and building on his or her strengths. For example, paraprofessionals are old hands in the classroom but need content courses and courses linking pedagogical theory to practice.
In contrast, midcareer switchers with degrees in subject areas might need courses on classroom management or other teaching practices, along with extended supervised time in the classroom.
A third key is support. Work supports can make the difference between a teacher and a program dropout. Many recruits need and receive services ranging from full tuition to tutoring to child care.
Recruitment programs with these ingredients work. So far, 1,900 of the 2,500 paraprofessionals and other school staff, midcareer switchers, returning Peace Corps volunteers, and others recruited by one of the largest of the foundation-supported efforts the Wallace-Readers Digest Funds Pathways Program have completed the program. Principals of schools where these new recruits teach give Pathways graduates higher marks for classroom effectiveness than other novice teachers. And Pathways teachers stick with teaching. Compared with other new teachers, more than twice as many are still on the job three years from their first day of school.
News of results like these made it to Washington, which funded 28 teacher-recruitment programs on the Pathways model in 1998 as part of the Higher Education Act. But additional programs have not been funded since.
The presidents budget proposal for this year contains funding only for the Defense Departments Troops to Teachers Program, which reaches a comparatively a narrow range of nontraditional recruits (all from the military). Recruiting teachers from new pools and preparing them for the job wont meet all the nations need for more and better teachers. But recent studies verify this group possesses raw teaching talent and programs pioneered by foundations show how to identify and cultivate it.
Besides making good on the presidents assertion that improvements in "student achievement begin with an effective teacher in every classroom," providing federal funding to replicate these teacher recruitment programs would produce a reasonably high quantity of demonstrably high-quality teachers for the nations classrooms and children.

Beatriz Chu Clewell is a senior researcher at the Urban Institute and an authority on educational issues involving disadvantaged populations. The views in this article are the authors and not necessarily those of the Urban Institute.


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