- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2003

School systems in the metropolitan area are implementing broad strategies to fill teacher shortages and put more educators inside their areas of expertise.

Education Secretary Rod Paige issued a report to Congress Tuesday saying half of the nation’s teachers with specialities in elementary and secondary math, English, science and social studies were teaching other subjects during the 1999-2000 school year.

School officials are offering signing bonuses, improving benefits packages and holding job fairs to attract teachers and to match positions to their fields of study. They say other incentive programs have been successful in retaining educators.

“It’s anything from money, to providing different kinds of support for teachers, such as mentorships, incentives and extra pay for teachers at low-income schools,” said Linda Bazerjian, a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Department of Education.

The District has offered to cancel student loans or give breaks on buying homes for certain positions, but a budget crunch is keeping the city from doing more to attract qualified teachers, said George Springer, administrator of the Washington Teachers Union.

“The problems in the report are important and right on,” Mr. Springer said. “But I can’t impress upon you how difficult it is to take on those issues when we’re facing the kind of fiscal issues the D.C. government does now.”

D.C. school personnel did not return phone calls Wednesday.

Virginia reported for its 2002-02 school year that 4.4 percent of the teaching positions were either unfilled or held by someone outside the specialty.

“Virginia is moving forward with a variety of creative approaches to the challenges presented by the teacher shortage,” said Charles Pyle, director of communications for the Virginia Board of Education. “Our Career Switcher program has enabled more than 200 talented men and women from the private sector and the military to enter the classroom as highly qualified teachers.”

Growing enrollments are likely to put more pressure on schools.

Maryland officials estimate they will have to hire 8,000 teachers for the 2003-04 school year, though Ms. Bazerjian said colleges in the state with teacher-certification programs don’t train that many.

“We train [fewer] teachers than we need to hire every year,” she said.

Alternate-education programs are training some midcareer professionals to take over classrooms.

A $13.5 million federal grant awarded in 2002 is helping Virginia train and retain teachers, Mr. Pyle said. Part of the grant goes to developing a system that rewards colleges and universities with teacher-preparation programs that respond to elementary and secondary schools’ needs.

The grant also will help the state retain teachers through mentoring programs and enhanced compensation, and will go toward creation of programs to reduce teacher shortages in high-poverty urban and rural areas through recruitment and training of people living in those communities.

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