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Promise of Teaching Job Fails to Lure Students in Florida

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Last year, the college of education at the University of South Florida (usf) launched an innovative recruiting program designed to attract better-qualified students. The experiment, officials hoped, would produce a solution to the problem of student quality, which education-school officials nationwide say is among the most vexing they face.

But usf education administrators, although still enthusiastic about the experiment, acknowledge that it has produced not a solution, but more problems.

Developers of the Suncoast Area Teacher Training Program (scatt) theorized, they say, that combining tough admission standards with the promise of a teaching job would produce better students for the usf college of education and higher-quality teachers for the local school districts offering the jobs.

But the coordinators of scatt say they are having trouble "selling" a key element in the program--the job guarantee--to both the students and the schools.

In fact, they have found that only a few of the approximately 100 students in the program have taken the optional job guarantee. And many school districts have refused--for a variety of reasons, coordinators say, including the protection of their relationships with other education programs--to commit themselves to hiring scatt graduates, even though the students are acknowledged to be "above average" teaching prospects.

scatt, which is funded as a pilot project by the Florida Legislature, is an honors program.

To be admitted into scatt, students must have a 3.0 grade point average (on a scale of 4.0) during their first two years of college--as opposed to the 2.0 average the usf college of education requires of regular applicants--and they must score at or above the 60th percentile on college admission tests.

scatt students also take part in a series of "enrichment" workshops, seminars, and field trips. And during their final semester--either this fall or next spring for most--they will intern part-time in local schools under specially trained district teachers who applied, and were chosen, to become scatt supervisors.

To date, only about 5 percent of the 100 juniors who entered the program in its first year last fall have signed a job-guarantee contract with a school district. The reason, the students say, is that just being in the program makes them attractive job candidates and that in signing a job-guarantee contract they are depriving themselves of a wider choice of districts in which to work.

"I'm not sure which county I want to work in. With scatt experience I figure I can get a job anywhere," says Patty A. LaBlance, a senior majoring in pre-school education.

Students Praise Program

Ms. LaBlance and other students, however, praise the program, especially workshops that bring them into contact with administrators and teachers in the area's schools. Says senior David M. Caso: "I went into education for other reasons, but scatt is a happy bonus."

The Dean of the usf college of education, William G. Katzenmeyer, attributes the apparent student disinterest in the job guarantee to a high demand for new teachers in the Tampa Bay area. Last year, he says, approximately 1,300 new teachers were hired in 17-county area served by usf

"I'd like to say the job guarantee is a magnificent drawing card, but it isn't," he states. "If the [employment] market were tighter, maybe the job guarantee would mean more."

According to Thomas E. Weightman, school superintendent of Pasco County--located just north of usf--, the decision to participate in the job guarantee program was "easy" because6the county has added 15 new schools in the last nine years. "But if we were not hiring [teachers]," he added, "it would be a much more difficult commitment."

Pasco County is one of four school districts that have agreed in principle to offer scatt job guarantees; to date, it is the only district that has "signed" scatt students--five of them.

In school districts where teachers are being fired instead of hired, the reception to the job-guarantee plan is much cooler.

"It's impossible to guarantee jobs to [scatt] interns when regular teachers are being laid off," says Mollie Read, president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, a teacher's union that supports scatt in principle but not in practice.

Hillsborough County, which has sufferedstudent enrollment declines and has put 400 teachers on temporary one-year contracts, has so far refused to participate in the job-guarantee plan. usf is located in the county.

Other education schools around the state, angered that the scatt employment guarantee will close their graduates out of jobs, have lobbied against the plan before local school boards.

"Education deans were upset and we felt it was not fair to the students in other colleges for us to make an alliance with one school," says Martha R. Wallace, who was chairman of the Pinellas County (St. Petersburg) school board when it rejected the recommendation of its superintendent and disapproved the scatt program.

Ms. Wallace was then and still is a member of the board of trustees of Eckerd College, a small, liberal arts college in St. Petersburg that also trains teachers.

Mr. Katzenmeyer understands the criticism of the guaranteed-job plan by his fellow deans: "If I were dean of another college, how could I be enthusiastic about it?"

Ironically, nearly everyone--school board members who voted to not participate in it, students in the program, school-district personnel officials and teachers, and usf education faculty--supports the principle behind scatt. They agree that it is a promising way of getting better teachers into the schools.

The question remains, however, whether scatt can become more than a very small- scale pilot project. Says Dean Katzenmeyer: "What we have is a beginning."

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